$2.75 Million Awardee
John Berdes, President and CEO of Enterprise Cascadia, is well aware of the long-term threat that climate change poses for low-income communities, but he also sees something else on the horizon. “At Enterprise Cascadia, we believe that a clean energy economy is emerging today, and that there is an opportunity for those that have historically been excluded from the mainstream to be full participants in this new economy,” he says. Enterprise Cascadia was formed in 1995 to promote economic opportunity and a healthy environment for urban and rural communities of Oregon and Washington, so it is hardly surprising that the organization would envision urgent opportunity in slowing climate change. What is striking, however, is the boldness of its newest initiative to realize that opportunity.
That initiative, Clean Energy Works, is a multi-faceted program designed to create jobs while cutting carbon emissions. Its main component is a low-interest consumer loan that finances energy-efficient retrofits for homes and coordinates contractors to do the work. Underwriting is based more on utility payment history than credit history. The basic concept is that the retrofits will reduce the homeowner’s monthly energy costs by an amount roughly equivalent to the loan payment, thus eliminating the obstacles to implementing energy-efficient measures. Servicing the loan on utility bill links home performance to the home budget each and every month.
Clean Energy Works also includes business loans for contractors working on projects financed by the consumer loans, as well as a Community Workforce Agreement that ensures that the program will provide high-quality jobs for workers drawn from low-income populations. The goal, according to Berdes, is to create a “finance ecosystem” that grows the capacity to deliver energy-efficiency and economic opportunity as it grows demand for the efficiency itself.
Enterprise Cascadia launched Clean Energy Works in partnership with Portland, Oregon, in late 2009, and has already made more than 345 loans and provided $4.1 million in financing. Plans are in the works to expand the program to Seattle and to rural communities in the region. Enterprise Cascadia will use the Wachovia Wells Fargo NEXT Award for Opportunity Finance to complete a $20 million warehouse for its Clean Energy Works consumer loans and to support its efforts to work with other CDFIs that are interested in replicating the program.
Berdes believes that Clean Energy Works offers a strategy that many CDFIs can put into practice—and that it’s critical for the industry to begin advancing environmental, as well as economic, goals. “Unless CDFIs recognize the mission opportunity and the business opportunity in this climate change world, we will be on the sidelines and our beneficiaries will be on the sidelines,” he says. “Now is the time to address both the threat of hardship that climate change presents and, more importantly, the opportunity for inclusion.”