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Financing Green Projects

In the Green Building Law Blog on January 12, 2011, Shari Shapiro’s “Let’s Make a Deal – Top 10 Rules of Green Project Finance,” (www.greenbuildinglawblog.com), offered tips for getting banks to finance projects. Traditional loans have been harder to come by lately, but you can increase your chances of getting financing by clearly explaining what your project is and what the green benefits will be. Shapiro makes the point that not every banker gets green technology and its value, so you need to spend some time educating them. For example, an applicant must explain the value of the solar array (e.g., what is the resale value of the solar panels and what is the value of the electricity the array will produce?). For a green retrofit of a historic building, put a value on the potential energy savings and show that the building can command higher rents.

Here are Shapiro’s rules for green project finance:

  1. Find a bank or financial institution committed to green projects. Some banks now have financial arms dedicated to funding renewable projects.
  2. Pick a model. It’s easier to tweak an existing project finance model than to create a new one from scratch. Construction? Equipment?
  3. Recognize the need for tweaks. Whatever the model (see #2), it will need to be tweaked for the unique features of green building and renewable projects.
  4. Set out the deal terms in advance, particularly the obligations of the parties in the event of default.
  5. Identify and address the roles of the lender and borrower with respect to any incentives or other government financing that is part of the project. Each incentive has its own requirements regarding transferability and assignment, and ownership status is often an important factor.
  6. Make sure your green project pencils out. Seems simple and obvious, but when seeking financing, it is important that the project actually be a wise investment.
  7. Provide as much data about the beneficial financial features of the green project as possible. The growing body of data about the financial benefits of green buildings and the balance sheets of renewable energy projects should enable borrowers and lenders to better evaluate the risks and benefits of green projects.
  8. Where available, use green specific financing tools, like energy-efficient mortgages. A good primer is available at www.mortgageloan.com/environment.
  9. Be prepared to cross-collateralize. There is so much risk aversion that many financial institutions are seeking cross-collateralization of non-green projects to alleviate the fear, real or imagined, associated with financing green projects.
  10. Acknowledge a longer financing timeline.

Getting all parties on the same page about the financing deal and the documentation may take longer than traditional projects. But, as lenders and borrowers get more projects under their belts, this timeline will shorten.

Shari Shapiro, Esq., LEED AP, is an attorney in the Energy, Environment and Utilities practice of Cozen O’Connor. More information on Cozen’s EEU Practice is available at www.cozen.com/industry_sector_detail.asp?d=1&isid=6.

Web Watch

If you’re launching a planning process, leading a new visioning exercise, or trying to better incorporate smart growth and sustainability into your community, head over to the Planning ToolExchange (PlanIt X) brought to you by the Orton Family Foundation. It’s got a free database filled with various planning processes, supporting documents, and case studies that will help you find the inclusive process that will meet your needs. A broad variety of topics is covered, from integrating arts and culture, protecting community character in the face of population growth, engaging youth and diverse groups, and using a variety of high and low-tech tools to encourage public participation. 

New from the National Park Service: The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. Download the free PDF to help your local property owners with green rehabs. This is the first set of official guidelines on how to make changes that improve energy efficiency and still preserve the character of historic buildings. The Guidelines are an important addition to current discussions about sustainability and achieving greater energy efficiency, which have focused primarily on new buildings to date. The Guidelines on Sustainability stress the inherent sustainability of historic buildings and offer specific guidance on “recommended” rehabilitation treatments and those that are “not recommended” because they could damage a building’s historic character. 

The fine folks at the National Complete Streets Coalition understand that a road has many users and uses — they are champions of streets that meet the needs of bikers, walkers, and drivers. The coalition’s new report, Complete Streets Policy Analysis2010, may sound dry, but it features policies that support many downtown goals. You’ll find sample policies and explanations that can help your organization make the case for multi-use, safe streets in your community. Note: one out of five communities that have adopted Complete Streets policies is outside of urban areas, so there is something here for communities of all sizes.

If you’re looking for ways to help your local businesses go green, the City of Spokane’s Business and Development Services’ Sustainable Management of Assets, Resources and Technology (SMART) Recognition Program is a good place to start. It recognizes both aspiring and certified green businesses that are committed to creating better work
environments; a healthier, more productive workforce; more customers; and an increase in the bottom line. Applicants are asked to demonstrate their accomplishments and activities and are given decals for their marketing materials and storefronts. Decals are available for eight sustainability categories, including historic preservation, transportation, and waste reduction. Want to know more? Visit SMART’s website or attend the session, “SMART Business! Encouraging Sustainability in Your Business Community,” at the National Preservation Conference in Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 19-22, 2011.

Around the Network

Green Infrastructure for CleanWater

Upon learning that the City of Boston planned transportation improvements for Peabody Square, the community requested green infrastructure to help mitigate pollution of the Neponset River. The St. Mark’s Area Main Street program helped organize public charrettes, and a few Main Street volunteers, including an architect and two environmental professionals, teamed with the Charles River Watershed Association to offer technical expertise. The project integrated a passive stormwater filtration system into the Square — it has a rain garden, bioswale, porous pavement, and interpretive signs to explain how these elements create cleaner water for the city.

The small town of Port Orford, Oregon, installed a bioswale in its downtown, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The Ford Family Foundation, the municipality, and the South Coast Watershed Council worked together to bring this project to the community. Stormwater ordinances for the downtown complement its clean water goals. Large properties and developments in town are required to provide permeable surfaces for water runoff and smaller properties are required to install proper gutter systems to manage water runoff.

ABQ Urban Farming

Albuquerque’s Downtown Action Team will be managing a new local foods demonstration project — the Alvarado Urban Farm. Tabling recruitment efforts to bring a grocery store downtown, the program signed a lease to develop a fully functional half-acre farm downtown. Blending commercial, farms and community gardens, a farmer’s market, public education, and recreation (bocce courts!), the group hopes to show demand for a market while engaging in placemaking. Fresh food will be sold at the farm stand and will also go to local schools and homeless shelters. Planting will begin this summer.

Another cool thing — the city’s mayor unveiled the state’s first electric car charging meters in downtown Albuquerque. People simply pull up, swipe their credit card, and plug in.

LED Lights on Main

Oxford, Michigan, replaced older street lights along four major downtown streets with LED fixtures designed by a local company called Relume. Oxford is the first city in the U.S. to employ this technology and expects to save $8,000 a year in energy bills and maintenance as the LED bulbs use 40 percent less electricity than incandescent lights and last six times longer. Relume fixtures have a variety of cool features such as dimming capabilities, 911 system connectivity, and a pattern lighting function that can turn on every other light.

In 2009, using funds from its business improvement district, the city, and the Community Redevelopment Authority, Hastings, Nebraska, began upgrading its old Christmas lights with LED bulbs. Before the twinkle light overhaul, the downtown was decorated with 13,000 light bulbs. The lighting display was downsized to 10,000 since LED bulbs cost $.90 more than standard bulbs, totaling about $11,500. The entire project cost $15,000 more than the community typically would have spent, but the savings promise to add up. Before the upgrade, the cost of the holiday lighting was $4,800; after the upgrade, the utility bill was reduced to $403! While community members had to adjust to the bluish hue, they applauded the savings, and the city appreciated the easier maintenance — LEDs don’t burn out as quickly and they stand up better to hail storms.

Vermont Viewshed Protections

Last year, the city of Randolph, Vermont, adopted new zoning regulations that include establishment of an Interchange (INT) district, designed to curb sprawl and protect scenic views. The INT encompasses lands near the highway interchange and interstate that are nestled among mountains and farmland. Zoning regulations stipulate what can and cannot be built in these zones and try to concentrate commercial development within existing traditional village centers. Randolph’s master plan includes recommendations for Transfer Development Rights (TDR) to allow owners of open land to sell their development rights to developers of projects in denser areas in exchange for special zoning exceptions. TDR zoning regulations have not yet been adopted, but once they are, they will help preserve rural space, create compact urban areas, and limit additional infrastructure expenditures by preventing development on greenfields.

I Pity the Fool Who Doesn’t Hike!

Although the annual festival is called April Fools’ Trail Days, this event is no joke to the Town of Franklin, North Carolina. The Main Street program has found a unique way to celebrate its heritage, encourage healthy living, and turn its close proximity
to the Appalachian Trail (AT) into an economic benefit. With deep connections to the trail’s history, the townsfolk of Franklin have long enjoyed this recreational asset. A local club was formed in 1968 to help take care of the trail near the downtown, and the community has a reputation for being exceptionally hospitable to hikers. In fact, in 2008, Franklin received one of only five Appalachian Trail Community™ designations along the entire 2,181-mile trail.

The April Fools’ Trails Days is an event that grows bigger each year. This year, the number of vendors has doubled. Franklin residents, hikers, and other visitors celebrate the AT’s national significance and its connection with the town. Entertainment takes place all day long, with appearances by AT All Stars (such as the fastest female through-hiker), vendors of hiking gear, a rock-climbing wall, educational exhibits, trail displays, music, food, and more.

Livable Streets in Lee’s Summit

Three year’s ago, a citizen-driven planning process brought together 200 Lee’s Summit, Missouri., stakeholders to spend eight months developing guidelines and ideal goals for the city. The mayor and city council adopted the planning document and a Livable Streets Resolution in 2010. The resolution provides a policy framework for all future development and requires a livable streets review coordinated by a Livable Streets Advisory Board and municipal agencies. Emphasis will be placed on enhancing the pedestrian environment. All new projects will be assessed on their ability to link to the city’s Greenway Trail and regional MetroGreen systems, as well as their plans to accommodate design elements such as zero-lot line infill.

Be Green — Eat a Cupcake

If only it were that easy… wait! It is that easy in Baltimore’s Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street district. This spring, Ruben and Kristin Hernandez opened the new Hamilton Bakery whose mission is to keep the local economy thriving by buying from local producers. Finding the perfect building in this up-and-coming artsy neighborhood has been a lot easier than their search for ingredients like organic hard wheat, which typically doesn’t grow well in the humid climate of the Mid-Atlantic. An Eastern Shore farmer finally emerged, allowing the bakery to locally source freshly ground flour and open its doors as one of those great “third places” that also adheres to being green.

Creating Healthy Lifestyles

Since the Healthy Nacogdoches Coalition was founded in 2007, a number of projects have come online to help Texans live healthier lives. The executive director of the Nacogdoches Main Street program sits on the coalition’s board, and the two organizations work together on various projects, such as getting food stamps accepted at the farmer’s market, and hosting an annual Bicycle Rodeo downtown to promote bike safety and maintenance. Also a strong partner in this wellness coalition is the city, which used a $300,000 grant to enhance the accessibility of the Lanana Creek Trail by connecting it to local schools.

Main Street Kingwood has channeled grant money from the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Services and the Center for Disease Control toward healthy lifestyles projects for school children and teens. With the help of the Tractor Supply Co., the program helped the children plant their own gardens, giving them not just the how-tos, but also cameras so they could keep a diary of their work. At the end of the growing season, one winner received a cash prize for the best garden, and all children were invited to display their produce at the annual Buckwheat Festival.

Earth Day Celebrations

Earth Day in Staunton, Virginia, is more than a one-day event. Throughout April, downtown businesses and property owners of vacant storefronts create green-themed window displays, there is a Wild and Scenic Film Festival, Mary Baldwin College hosts a birdhouse building workshop, and the city recycles tricky items like tires and electronics.
Actual Earth Day activities feature interactive learning booths by dozens of earth-friendly organizations, including the area bird watching club, master gardeners, beekeepers, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and watershed groups; hands-on demonstrations for kids; a native plant sale; and entertainment.

Keeping Chinatown Clean

In Philadelphia’s Chinatown district, a clean-up day was about a lot more than just picking up trash. In a community with a lot of immigrants accustomed to daily trash pick-ups in China, rubbish tends to pile up outside because keeping garbage inside the house or business is unacceptable.

The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (CDC), which runs the neighborhood’s Main Street program, worked with a team of 100 volunteers on the city’s annual Spring Clean Up. Putting an educational twist on the event, the CDC handed out fliers, in English and Chinese, that urge people to keep the neighborhood clean. The district’s cleanliness is important to the program as its revitalization effort gains momentum. An illuminated plaza guarded by giant foo dogs and street improvements that will dot the streets with Chinese zodiac characters and elm trees will bring a new vitality to the district — one that will benefit from the new ethic of keeping the area clean.