Financing Green Energy

Financing Green Energy

On February 18, the Earth Institute and the Energy and Environment Program of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs hosted a panel discussion on innovative methods of green energy finance.  The panel discussion focused on the development of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) legislation in America.  Members of this expert panel included Greg Hale of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Luke Falk of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Fred Lee of NYC Economic Development Corporation, Mabell Garcia Paine of Willdan Energy Solutions, and Wayne Seaton of Wells Fargo Securities.*

The PACE legislation provides cities, counties and special districts with the ability to designate areas where property owners may enter into voluntary contractual assessments to finance energy and water efficiency or renewable energy improvements to their properties. Their debts are then repaid via the property tax bill at an established rate of interest over a specific time period while the costs of the improvements stay with the properties should the current owners sell in the future. These groundbreaking programs give cities and counties a powerful tool to reduce their energy and water usage, utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions. Sixteen states have currently passed PACE legislation, including New York. 

According to panelist Mabell Paine, “There has never been a more important time for energy efficiency and water conservation in the United States. With a growing population, increasing fuel and water prices, and the pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a rapid and low-cost manner, cities and counties are being asked to quickly learn and implement a new way of approaching their communities’ use of energy and natural resources.”

The central point of the night’s discussion on PACE was the implementation of the legislation in the state of New York. Panelist Fred Lee pointed out that, “As New York City has already taken a strong leadership role with sustainability, policy-making and goal-setting, it is only natural that New York City would also take some responsibility in facilitating the financing of the measures necessary to achieve our sustainability objectives. Helping to develop and nurture a PACE program in the city is definitely a priority.”

Panelist Wayne Seaton said, “Energy efficiency and meeting climate change goals are challenging issues and we need to develop innovative financing ideas and solutions. I thought the panel was an effective medium for discussing some of these ideas, and was particularly impressed with the level of interest from attendees.”

Moderating the panel was Steve Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute and director of the Master of Public Administration Program in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.  Cohen is also the director of Columbia’s new Master of Science in Sustainability Management. This program, set to welcome its first students in the fall of 2010, is geared toward preparing professionals to set up and manage sustainability efforts within a wide range of fields. The panel explored an issue that will be central to the new program’s curriculum:  What are the new and creative ways available to provide the capital needed for the emerging green energy economy? 

“This panel discussed the kind of innovative sustainability policies and practices that this new master’s program is built to develop and implement,” said Cohen. “Our graduates will be among the first generation of professional sustainability managers. They will build and manage the green energy economy we discussed tonight.”

The panelists were unanimous in expressing the perceived success of the discussion. Luke Falk of NYSERDA said, “I enjoyed participating in Thursday night’s panel. It was heartening to see a packed room and to hear thoughtful discussion of new ways to reduce barriers to the implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy installations. NYSERDA is enthusiastic about being in a position to support programs that provide New Yorkers with access to the technical and financial assistance required to make projects successful.” 

Panelist Greg Hale had similar observations: “I thought that one of the most encouraging aspects of the evening was the number of people who showed up to learn more about clean energy financing.  The more creative minds that we are able to focus on the issue, the sooner we will be able to scale up the energy efficiency retrofit finance market across the country.”

Mabell Paine commented, “I was impressed with the well-rounded mixture of attendees.  It showed me that students, professors, nonprofits, for-profits and local organizations turn to the Earth Institute to further their knowledge and understanding of climate action and sustainability practices.  I particularly enjoyed meeting the Columbia students and seeing firsthand their interest and enthusiasm towards learning more about sustainability management.”

To view the video recording of this panel discussion, visit:

For more information about the M.S. in Sustainability Management program, contact Louise Rosen at

* Wells Fargo Securities is the trade name for certain capital markets and investment banking services of Wells Fargo & Company and its subsidiaries, including Wachovia Bank, N.A., and Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, member NYSE, FINRA and SIPC.  It is anticipated that on or around March 20, 2010, Wachovia Bank, N.A., will merge into its affiliate, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.