Yet another renewable financing model

Private investment firm Renewable Ventures LLC of San Francisco has created a $100 million (U.S.) fund dedicated to helping businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations take advantage of solar technology without having to pay the upfront costs. The fund essentially finances, owns and operates the solar assets, and the organization agrees as part of a 20-year contract to pay a fixed price for that renewable solar power, or some other rate that has been adjusted lower that the existing utility rate. Over time, the organization is sheltered against price hikes and the institutional investors behind the fund will get a low-risk return — somewhere in the high-single to low-double digits — partly because of associated tax benefits, CEO Matt Cheney told Red Herring.

The fund hopes to have 70 projects totalling up to 20 megawatts of solar capacity committed within the next half year. Cheney told the magazine that the model is not unlike leasing a car, and customers would similarly have the option of buying the system.

This is a great idea, and in no way original. There’s no reason why a similar private fund couldn’t be created in Canada, or even a government-created fund couldn’t head in the same direction, possibly expanding the program to include solar thermal and geothermal energy projects. There’s also no reason a utility such as Toronto Hydro or Enbridge Gas couldn’t go in this direction (actually, Enbridge has flirted with the idea), either on their own or in partnership with municipal governments.

The business models are there, and there’s money to make, particularly on the thermal side. You’ve got low risk for investors, you achieve government objectives regarding renewable energy, and end users have price stability and eco-bragging rights.

Toronto-area home developer adds geo/solar thermal as option

I’ve been aware of this initiative for a while, but Marshall Homes is finally making some noise regarding its Copperfield subdivision development project in Oshawa. Ontario Energy Minister Donna Cansfield was on hand this week to bring attention to new homes that the developer will equip with solar-thermal-geoexchange clean energy systems — what Marshall calls its STREAM system, which is being supplied by Toronto-based Clean Energy Developments using technology from Enerworks Inc. of Dorchester, Ont.

“There’s no reason why clean energy systems shouldn’t be an option for any new home built in Canada,” said Craig Marshall, president of the Ontario-based home developer, which says its STREAM system can save homeowners more than $2,000 a year on home energy bills and reduce conventional energy consumption by up to 79 per cent compared to traditional, natural gas furnaces and hot water heaters.

The system, the company says, will be an upgrade option for all remaining un-sold homes in its Copperfield community, and an option for all homes in its upcoming Oshawa community, appropriately called Kingsfield Loop. As an option, the cost of the system — roughly $22,000 — is wrapped into a homeowner’s mortage so there’s no upfront financial pain by having to pay for the system as a standalone purchase.

This is not an experiment, a trial or a demonstration project. This is the real deal — no subsidies, no smoke and mirrors. Marshall is simply recognizing that more new home buyers want renewable choices and protection against future energy/electricity price increases, not to mention the option of playing their role as green consumers. Getting a developer to fully back this kind of option has been a long time coming, and Marshall Homes should be given a pat on the back for being progressive. Hopefully other developers out there will follow the lead.

Flippin’ a buck by greening up brownfields

My pal Andrew Willis at the Globe and Mail had a great article last week that, if you haven’t seen it already, you might want to check out. The story is about the launch of the Kilmer Brownfield Equity Fund, which is a $100 million private equity venture — led by Kenneth Tanenbaum — dedicated to cleaning up dirty and contaminated industrial sites. “Mr. Tanenbaum plans to bring the most downtrodden of downtown properties back to life, and turn a tidy profit in the process,” writes Willis.

The fund’s focus, at least initially, will be Toronto, where there are many examples of large industrial lands that have sat vacant because of the contamination stigma attached to them. By cleaning them up and re-selling these properties to developers, Tanenbaum’s venture will help cities like Toronto move forward with their urban revitalization plans and make it easier for these municipalities to lure taxpaying tenants to properties that have otherwise been an eyesore and drain to the urban landscape.

It also, perhaps, offers an opportunity for soil remediation companies to get some business and test out new technologies.

Flippin’ a buck by greening up brownfields

My pal Andrew Willis at the Globe and Mail had a great article last week that, if you haven’t seen it already, you might want to check out. The story is about the launch of the Kilmer Brownfield Equity Fund, which is a $100 million private equity venture — led by Kenneth Tanenbaum — dedicated to cleaning up dirty and contaminated industrial sites. “Mr. Tanenbaum plans to bring the most downtrodden of downtown properties back to life, and turn a tidy profit in the process,” writes Willis.

The fund’s focus, at least initially, will be Toronto, where there are many examples of large industrial lands that have sat vacant because of the contamination stigma attached to them. By cleaning them up and re-selling these properties to developers, Tanenbaum’s venture will help cities like Toronto move forward with their urban revitalization plans and make it easier for these municipalities to lure taxpaying tenants to properties that have otherwise been an eyesore and drain to the urban landscape.

It also, perhaps, offers an opportunity for soil remediation companies to get some business and test out new technologies.

BusinessWeek recognizes Port Hawkesbury hockey arena

Back in December you may recall a Clean Break feature I wrote on a Nova Scotia-based company called Advanced Glazings, which makes specially glazed windows that are highly insulated and dramatically reduce glare by diffusing direct sunlight. The company’s product was used during the construction of Cape Breton’s Port Hawkesbury hockey arena, which is one of the first in the world to have windows that allow natural light to fill the building. This arena was the focus of my feature. Anyway, three months later BusinessWeek has picked up on this interesting building — and window glazing technology — and has named it one of the world’s Top 10 “World-class sports stadiums,” alongside Cardinals Stadium in Arizona and Berlin Olympic Stadium (the arena is the 7th photo featured). Not bad for a small East Coast town, and certainly tremendous recognition for one of Nova Scotia’s brightest cleantech lights.

On a related note, my article sparked much interest in Advanced Glazings’ technology. In fact, the folks building a new soccer stadium in Toronto, which could end up as an in-door complex, are apparently quite interested in exploring the technology along with other renewable systems, such as installing a geothermal ground-loop system underneath the soccer field that would provide heating and cooling for the stadium and possibly an attached hotel complex. It’s encouraging that people are now seriously and increasingly considering these green approaches at the early design stage.