Energy efficiency is often presented as cost-prohibitive, but advocates insist the claim is propaganda. Take, for example, Doug Coward’s Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) based in Port St. Lucie County.
SELF is a nonprofit community development financial institution, or CDFI. CDFIs are designed to provide capital to under-served and “under-banked communities.” They were introduced in the 1960s, but in 1994 President Clinton and Congress created a government agency known as the CDFI Fund. Among its requirements are that such institutions offer a minimum of 60 percent of their lending to low or moderate-income families.
Though there are 1,000 CDFIs in the country, SELF is the only one of its kind in Florida and one of only a handful in the country that offer home energy retrofits.
“In a nutshell, we provide energy expertise to help property owners identify the most cost-effective ways to cut their energy use and potentially incorporate renewable energy alternatives,” says Coward, who previously served as a county commissioner in Port St. Lucie. SELF also provides favorable financing so people can overcome the expensive costs of energy retrofits.
A typical loan to a client goes for around $8,000-$10,000 and includes a basic weatherization package. That involves inspecting the current energy efficiency of air conditioners and the insulation of a home. The 24 different types of products that SELF finances include window tinting, solar water heating, solar PV systems, reflective paint, windows, doors, and roofs.
SELF is also providing a boost to the economy in doing so, utilizing 48 different contractors to do the work. Coward says “mission-driven finance” from private investors and faith-based institutions is how his company is funded. And now that SELF has a track record, it’s able to work with banks.
Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which helped facilitate the Scott meeting and organized this month’s Climate Science and Solutions Summit, has had discussions with Coward about bringing a similar financing model to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
“We’ve been talking to leaders about how do we bring these investment dollars, and Doug’s got investors… it’s all about the financing now.”
But will our investor-owned utilities do their part?
Earlier this summer, Duke, FP&L, TECO and four other power companies asked the Public Service Commission to lower energy conservation goals. They contend that energy efficiency is already occurring, through stricter building codes and higher efficiency standards for appliances. FPL and Duke also propose an end to the solar power programs that give homeowners a rebate when they install the systems.
The PSC won’t make its decision until after the election.
And come January that board will welcome its newest member, former Panama City House Republican Jimmy Patronis. Along with his seersucker suits, Patronis is best known for supporting legislation that favored developers and industry and is no friend of the environment. He’s also served a stint as Florida’s “Public Sector Chair” for ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which for decades has pushed “model legislation” at conferences where state legislators are presented with corporate wish lists.
Jimmy Patronis is Rick Scott’s choice at the PSC.
Some environmental activists say that, in contrast, this is one issue where Charlie Crist hasn’t flip-flopped. They point to his consistent support of the public over the utilities during his term as governor, and note that two of his selections to the PSC in 2009 — David Clement and Steve Stevens — were ejected by the Florida Senate in 2010, shortly after they voted against record rate increases proposed by FP&L and Progress Energy (which later merged with Duke).
Last Friday the climate scientists who met with Governor Scott composed a letter to him.
“Although you couldn’t make it to the summit, you have asked for ‘solutions,’” they wrote, and then submitted some ideas for limiting carbon pollution.
If there’s a change at the top in Tallahassee, they might just get a response.