In Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 22, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Dick Lyons, co-host of the Wendel Forum and co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group.

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

Richard Lyons, co-host of The Wendel Forum and Wendel Rosen Green Business Attorney

In the early 1980’s, Lyons was practicing business law when he worked on one of the early wind power projects in the Altamont Pass.  Since that time, he has continued to work on wind power projects and has worked with solar power companies too.  Before long, he began to hear about the business activity related to natural and organic products.  He attended his first Expo West – the trade show devoted to natural and organic products – in the 1990’s.

“I was amazed by the number of companies, the different types of foods and the overall energy of the people,” he recalls. The natural products industry expanded even more with the creation of Whole Foods, which retailed natural products across the nation.  Since then, he’s represented many natural foods companies, including United Natural Foods Inc., which is now a $5 billion company thanks in part to mergers and acquisitions that Lyons worked on.

Around the same time, Lyons wanted to create a cohesive law firm practice group that would focus on representing companies that benefited the environment. As co-founder of Wendel’s sustainable business practice group, he also wanted to incorporate sustainable practices into the law firm itself.  Together with his co-founders, he was able to convince his partners that recycling and energy saving measures were also good business.

Sustainable business start-ups face many of the same issues as new companies in other industries, but they often have specialized concerns, according to Lyons.  For example, if the product is certified organic, there may be supply chain issues.  In addition, these companies are often formed not just to make a profit but also to achieve larger social goals such as having positive effect on the environment and their community.  They also need capital from investors that have the same social values and expectations about the return on investment.

From co-hosting The Wendel Forum radio show, Lyons (who, incidentally, played and recorded the Forum’s intro and outro music) learned that people start sustainable companies for one or more of the following reasons: they had an epiphany related to sustainability, they wanted healthy products for themselves that they couldn’t find, or they wanted to benefit the environment and the community.

We’d love it if you would share your favorite Wendel Forum moment with us. What was your favorite interview with Dick as host?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Lyons: Episode 100 of The Wendel Forum (27:52 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Wendel Rosen’s Sustainable/Green Business Practice Group: http://www.wendel.com/greenbusiness  

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 94 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on March 30, 2013, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Michele McGeoy, founder and executive director of Solar Richmond, which offers free solar training, staffing services leading to temporary and permanent employment, and green business ownership opportunities for low income and under-employed residents of Richmond, CA.

photo of Michele McGeoy

Michele McGeoy of Solar Richmond

McGeoy spent the beginning of her career running several software companies and later founded a non-profit that sought to tackle the digital divide.  Eventually, she “burned out” on the computer industry and transitioned to the solar field.  A longtime Richmond, CA resident, she wanted the city to be part of the green economy.  Solar, she thought, was the antidote to pollution, and jobs were the antidote to violence.  Solar Richmond’s mission is to “catalyze transformative change,” which includes providing training and job opportunities related to solar, including installation, service and back office jobs, for 18-24 year olds.

Partnering with Berkeley City College, Solar Richmond has placed more than 140 young people in green collar jobs in which they acquire skills transferable to many industries and careers.  Recently, Solar Richmond became a worker-owned cooperative, in which graduates of the program become part owners in the company. McGeoy hopes to have 10 worker-owners by end of next year and continue to add new employee-owners every year.

Solar Richmond logo

Solar Richmond logo

Solar Richmond works on both residential and commercial solar projects and recently completed a power purchase agreement with a Walnut Creek church.  The City of Richmond also hired Solar Richmond for six of its buildings, including community centers, fire stations and libraries.

Would you consider hiring Solar Richmond for your solar project?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with McGeoy: Episode 94 of The Wendel Forum (27:20 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Solar Richmond’s Website: http://www.solarrichmond.org

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 87 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on December 15, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor, a nine-city partnership devoted to assisting green businesses, and Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss,  CSO and CEO/CTO, respectively, of ergSol, an Oakland solar thermal company.

Photo of Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor

Carla Din, director of East Bay Green Corridor, in studio

East Bay Green Corridor was founded in 2007 to advance a green energy economy in nine East Bay Area cities, including Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.  The organization develops policy and also markets and promotes clean energy start-ups with the goal of keeping those businesses in the East Bay. Unlike traditional accelerators, which focus on start-ups’ business plans and capital, East Bay Green Corridor introduces companies to its vast network of local supply chains, customers and resources, including several academic institutions and programs (such as the Cleantech to Market program at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business).  Already, it has worked with Alphabet Energy, which captures waste heat, Imprint Energy, which pioneers zinc-based rechargeable batteries, and Lucid Design Group, a cleantech software company.

photo of Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss of ergSol

Dr. Monika Weiss and Wolfgang Weiss of ergSol

Din met Monika Weiss at a conference and since then East Bay Green Corridor has been facilitating relationships for ergSol, a developer and manufacturer of high temperature solar thermal systems based in Oakland.  Since the Weisses moved to the US 12 years ago, they’ve seen an increase in activity and interest in renewable energy.  With ergSol, a solar thermal system that can also be used for cooling as well as heating, they hope to bring US solar use up to the level of Europe.

How has relationship-building assisted your business?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Din and the ergSol executives: Episode 87 of The Wendel Forum (27:44 mins; mp3)

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

East Bay Green Corridor Website: http://www.ebgreencorridor.org

ergSol Website: http://ergsol.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 84 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on November 10, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Aaron Binkley, Director of Sustainability at Prologis, and Rich Chien, PACE program manager at San Francisco’s Department of the Environment.

Richard Chien

Richard Chien, PACE program manager at SF’s Department of the Environment

San Francisco’s PACE program uses stimulus funds to improve the environmental performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the City’s existing building stock.  Part of the Department of Energy’s green building policy, PACE launched the commercial building program a year ago.  It’s first project is Pier 1, the headquarters of Prologis, the country’s largest industrial real estate company.

Aaron Binkley

Aaron Binkley, Director of Sustainability at Prologis

At a cost of $1.6 million, the PACE-Prologis project will include rooftop solar panels and energy efficiency upgrades.  Specifically, the building will receive retrocommissioning of its heating and cooling systems (primarily related to software, controls, valves and motors) and a full lighting retrofit (replacing bulbs and some fixtures; adding sensors and daylight capture equipment). When it’s completed in 2013, the project will reduce energy purchases by one third from last year’s baseline.  All of the building’s tenants (including the Port of San Francisco) will benefit, and savings will be applied to all occupants on a pro rata basis.  The changes have been calibrated so as to not generate excess energy that needs to be sold back to the grid.

Piloted in Berkeley in 2007, the PACE program uses local governments’ taxing or bond-issuing authority to fund projects that have a public benefit.  The PACE-Prologis project is 100 percent privately funded, with bonds issued to private investors. Repayments are made through the property tax billing system, which allows for longer terms (up to 20 years). The property is the collateral and repayment obligations transfer to the new owner if the building sold.  The interest is federally taxable and California tax-free.

A challenge to the PACE program is that the loan agreements from residential and commercial lenders typically prevent land owners from further encumbering their properties without the lender’s approval.  Since the PACE bonds are repaid through increased property taxes, the bonds are effectively senior in security to the lenders’ loans.  Some lenders may be reluctant to approve PACE financing unless they are confident that the resulting energy savings will translate into a sufficiently higher property value so that their positions are not impaired.  One approach to lender reluctance is for the lender itself to purchase the PACE bonds.  In that case, the lender is only subordinated to itself and gets the benefit of the investment in the PACE bonds.

How could the PACE program impact your community?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Binkley and Chien: Episode 84 of The Wendel Forum (27:44 mins; mp3)

For information about PACE, visit: www.greenfinancesf.org and www.pacenow.org  

Prologis Corporate Responsibility Web Page: http://www.prologis.com/en/responsibility.html

960 KNEW AM Radio Website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’ online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 75 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 1, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Gary Eberhart, who serves on the board of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, which serves 32,000 children and adult students at 56 campuses, making it one of the largest school districts in California.

Gary Eberhart

Amid decreasing budgets and increasing energy costs, the Mt. Diablo School District secured a $350 million bond from the community to add solar energy to 51 of the district’s schools.  Eberhart and his fellow board members determined that purchasing a solar energy system through a bond program would be more cost-effective than buying power from a solar provider under a long-term purchase agreement. Specifically, Eberhart, who has served on the school board for 17 years, determined they could invest the estimated $220 million savings back into the schools over the system’s 30-year life expectancy.  The bond measure was approved by 60 percent of the community.

Mt. Diablo’s 12.2-megawatt system is the largest program in the world for a school district and will meet 92 percent of the district’s energy needs.  After a competitive selection process for the contractor, the installation took one year and all but a handful of the 51 systems are now up and running.  The solar panels were installed primarily in parking lots and on playground structures, which Eberhart says look better and are easier to maintain than roof panels.  The solar energy systems are also providing a unique educational tool for students, who can monitor energy and cost savings through real-time data.

Could your school district use solar energy?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Eberhart:   Episode 75 of The Wendel Forum (27:43 mins; mp3)

Mount Diablo Unified School District Website: http://www.mdusd.org/Pages/default.aspx

Information about the Bond Program: http://mdusdmeasurec.org

Strategic Facilities Planning, Eberhart’s Company Website: http://www.strategicfacilitiesplanning.com

960 KNEW AM Radio Website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s Online Profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 73 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 18, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Lindsay Riddell who covers Cleantech, Sustainability, Startups and Venture Capital for the San Francisco Business Times.  They discuss a number of trends in the cleantech environment.
 
Lindsay Riddell photo

Lindsay Riddell covers Cleantech, Sustainability, Startups and Venture Capital for the San Francisco Business Times

Biofules and Biochemicals

Bill and Riddell start of the conversation with a discussion of what’s happening in the Bay Area biofuel and biochemical industries.  Companies in this space are looking for a variety of approaches to break down or convert renewable materials into fuels, soaps, chemicals, oils, food products, fragrances and others that typically rely on petroleum-based production.
 
With the economic downturn, capital became increasingly scarce and companies had to scale back or retool their plans for expansion.  Now, as these companies mature, they are undertaking new approaches for attracting venture investment.  The more established companies have created a roadmap for some of the emerging companies. 
 
Organizations such as the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which is a joint venture between the University of California campuses at Berkeley, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, are helping to accelerate innovation and bring discoveries to market more quickly.  Riddell discusses some of the strategies these companies are taking to survive the short term and thrive in the long term.
 

Investment trends

 
Not surprising, with the economic downfall of the past few years, Riddell acknowledges that investor enthusiasm has waned.  She observes that there is still money available for good ideas, but the investment community has been behaving more conservatively. Meanwhile, there are still resources in places like Greenstart, a startup accelerator that works with companies focused on solutions that combine cleantech and IT.  Software applications that address issues such as energy efficiency are still finding some success in the marketplace.

Carbon Data

Riddell recently wrote an article on Facebook’s voluntary reporting on their carbon footprint.  She and Bill discuss the pros and cons of releasing this data and the market pressures at play for companies to become more transparent in their operations.  This move is likened to Wal-Mart coming out several years ago with a commitment to dedicate shelf space to products that have higher levels of sustainability.  It’s clear that these big companies can have incredible influence in the marketplace and change expectations for both consumers and investors.

Electric Vehicles

The Bay Area is home to a thriving network related to the electric vehicle industry – car manufacturers, battery manufacturers, chargers and application developers for locating electric car chargers, crowd-sourcing for charging – the list goes on.  Some of the more interesting new developments include apps for available parking spaces with charging stations, car sharing apps, and there’s even an app that essentially takes the act of hitchhiking to the internet. Most of these are mobile technologies that employ various aspects of GPS tracking.
 
What do you consider to be the most important clean tech trends in the Bay Area?  What’s just over the horizon?
 
Post Links:
 
Listen to the interview with Lindsay Riddell: Episode 73 of The Wendel Forum (27:47 mins; mp3)
 
San Francisco Business Times website: www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco
 
Follow Lindsay Riddell on Twitter: @LRiddellSF
 
California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences:  http://qb3.org/
 
 
960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com
 
Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 71 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on August 4, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Victor Eyal, founder and CEO of UMA Solar, manufacturer and nationwide distributor of solar products.

UMA Solar logo

After spending 12 years as pilot in the Israeli air force, Eyal founded UMA Solar 30 years ago.  The company is focused on solar thermal (not electric) energy, which heats water in the way a garden hose laying on a lawn, heated by the sun, creates hot water.

Since the sun is Israel’s only natural resource, that country has been using solar energy since the 1950’s on almost every building, so much so that when children draw pictures of houses, they include solar water-heating systems, according to Eyal.  When he came to the US, he noticed that solar thermal technology wasn’t being used and saw an opportunity to bring the products here.

Although solar thermal technology has been around for decades, it’s more recently been improved to efficiently heat water for homes and swimming pools.  Specifically, in the last 20 years, the systems have evolved to include freeze protection, electronic controls, internet reporting systems and pumping systems.  The design of collectors has also improved – materials now include copper, aluminum and low-iron black tempered glass, which allow high energy penetration and permit little energy escape.

Today, most countries surrounding Israel – from Turkey to Morocco – have similarly implemented solar water heating.  It’s also “leaked into Europe,” Eyal explains, with large solar manufacturers hailing from Germany, France and Greece.  Interestingly, China is by far the largest user of solar thermal systems.

In the US, states with government incentives are the biggest users of solar thermal energy.  In those cases, commercial pools are increasingly heated with solar technology, now representing 20 percent of the solar thermal market.  In fact, one of UMA’s flagship commercial projects was heating the pool in Atlanta used for past Olympic games.  There are also industrial applications for solar-heated water, even if a company needs only to generate steam.  In Israel, hospitals and factories use solar thermal technology.

How could you use solar thermal energy?

Post Links

Listen to the interview with Victor Eyal: Episode 71 of The Wendel Forum  (27:18 mins; mp3)

UMA Solar website: http://www.umasolar.com/

960 KNEW AM Radio Website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rylons

In Episode 68 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on June 30, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Bill Acevedo, chair of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Councilmember Damon Connolly of San Rafael and Councilmember Tom Butt of Richmond.

 

Damon City Hall Photo

San Rafael City Councilmember Damon Connolly serves as Chairman of the Board for the Marin Energy Authority

Connolly is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Marin Energy Authority (MEA). The MEA is the not-for-profit public agency formed by the County of Marin and several Marin cities and towns in 2008.  MEA administers the Marin Clean Energy program.

MEA is the first operational example of a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program in the state of California.  In California, Community Choice Aggregation was developed through legislation (AB 117) in 2002 as a response to the rolling blackouts of several years ago (remember Enron?).  It’s a system that allows cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers within a defined jurisdiction in order to secure alternative energy supply contracts.

MEA’s program is a hybrid to traditional utility models, which might include a municipal utility or privately-owned utility (such as PG&E in Northern California).  In MEA’s model, the public agency purchases or produces the energy, but a third-party energy company handles distribution and maintenance of the energy transmission infrastructure.

In 2002, California addressed base renewable energy goals through SB 1078, which set the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS).  These goals were expanded in 2011 under SB 2.  California, under the RPS program, requires investor-owned utilities, electric service providers and CCAs to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resource to 33% of total procurement by 2020.

MEA’s plan is considerably more ambitious than the state requirement.  They plan to get to 100% renewable procurement in the next 10 years. Today they are at 28% (8% more than the current RPS requirement).  The program is getting a tremendous response from new renewable energy suppliers, and MEA has initiated an “Open Season” procurement process to manage proposals.  

So, how does it work?

When a community joins, all of the residents are included in the CCA program.  If they do not want to participate in it, however, they are free to opt out.  If they choose to participate, the MEA offers two plan levels – a “Light Green” and a “Dark Green” option.  The first delivers energy to customers with 50% coming from renewable energy sources.  The latter offers energy to customers that is 100% sourced from renewable energy.  The dark green plan costs the average customer $5-10 more per month and currently includes 8% of their customer base.

The City of Richmond is one of the latest cities to join the MEA.  So how did a city in Contra Costa County get involved in a program from Marin?  City Councilmember Tom Butt explains that Richmond’s General Plan 2030 includes multiple environmental goals, including offering a CCA toRichmond residents and businesses. When analyzing how best to go about implementing a CCA, the City decided it just didn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel, according to Butt.  MEA, as a clear leader in the space, was a logical partner.  As Richmond comes online, the MEA expects to add about 30,000 new customers – a significant influx of new customers, which will give MEA even more purchasing power with energy producers going forward.

Would you pay $10 more on your energy bill each month to know that the energy was made up of 100% renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass? 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Councilmembers Connolly and Butt: Episode 68 of The Wendel Forum (27:18 mins; mp3)

Marin Energy Authority: http://www.marinenergyauthority.org/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Bill Acevedo’s online profile: http://www.wendel.com/wacevedo

In Episode 51 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on February 25, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show host Dick Lyons welcomes Ted Ko, Associate Executive Director of the Clean Coalition, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to implement policies and programs that “transition the world to cost-effective clean energy now while delivering unparalleled economic benefits.” Ted is a co-founder of the group and currently oversees policy development and strategy for both regulatory and legislative efforts. 

Photo of Ted Ko

Ted Ko, Associate Executive Director of the Clean Coalition

Ted explains how the group goes about fixing problems and issues facing those looking to build small to medium scale clean local energy projects such as wind farms, biofuels, solar, fuel cells, etc.  Their mission is to help make it faster and easier for these projects to come to fruition.

Dick and Ted discuss energy distribution issues and the Coalition’s position on how to best get the most cost-effective energy to market.  They touch on the challenges of the current energy distribution system, with its long, inefficient transmission lines and the environmental, permitting and construction issues associated with large scale power plant production.  In contrast, Coalition projects focus on small, local projects that benefit local economies. While many projects employ solar PV technology, the program is designed to be source agnostic.

Small projects are generally done on a custom basis, so transaction costs are often an impediment to a project’s success.  By trying to standardize and simplify the contracts across utilities, cities and jurisdictions, the Coalition is focused on simplifying the communication about these types of projects, as well as the process to get them up and running.  Clearly, as smart grid and energy storage technologies come into play, the landscape for energy distribution will change.  The Coalition believes that it’s important for policymakers and lawmakers to get serious about these issues.
In the meantime, the Coalition will continue to push for clean local energy.

For those local and municipal entities interested in launching their own projects, the Clean Coalition has a Local Clean Program Guide that is a free how-to manual available for download on their website (link).  

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Ted Ko:  Episode 51 of The Wendel Forum (27:53 mins; mp3)

Clean Coalition website:  http://www.clean-coalition.org

Free Guide download: http://www.clean-coalition.org/local_clean_program_guide/

960 KNEW AM Radio website: http://www.960KNEW.com

Dick Lyons’ online profile: http://www.wendel.com/rlyons

In Episode 39 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on November 5, 2011 on Green 960 AM radio), show host Dick Lyons speaks with Cynthia Ringo, Managing Partner of DBL Investors.  Cynthia was also on a panel at the California Cleantech Innovation Conference held in Oakland on November 2-3, which the firm sponsored. And on the heels of his recent trip to Korea, Dick presented at the conference discussing issues cleantech companies should consider when looking to expand in global markets.

DBL Investors is a San Francisco-based venture capital firm with a double bottom line investment strategy. They focus on companies that value their communities and the environment, in addition to favorable profits.  What kind of companies are in their portfolio?  A pretty wide range, many with names you’ve heard, representing a variety of aspects of the cleantech economy, including alternative energy, solar, green vehicles, bio materials and fuels, and lighting.

Cynthia and Dick discuss the types of companies that appeal to DBL.  They find themselves working with companies in almost a proprietary manner to develop social, environmental, and economic benefit in communities in which the companies operate.  Portfolio companies are generally looking to transform neighborhoods and communities. 

Of course, DBL is an investment firm, so financials and returns are measured as one might expect.  But beyond that, twice a year DBL also issues a report to their investors on a number of qualitative and quantitative metrics that they employ to analyze the portfolio on factors such as the number of jobs created in low- to moderate-income areas, employee diversity and opportunity, and green initiatives.

The conversation explores the topic of international growth for cleantech companies.  Dick and Cynthia discuss issues related to when companies should start to consider the foreign market opportunities, as well as hurdles, including foreign certifications and entity ownership and partnership requirements imposed in some jurisdictions.  Many countries (such as China and Korea) require the company to form a joint venture with a party in that country, raising possible complications to protecting intellectual property, among other challenges. 

Cynthia mentions some of the cutting edge technology coming out of a few of the companies she works with, wich include Solar City, BrightSource Energy, Solaria, Tesla, OPX Bio, and Primus Power.

Take a listen and then drop us a line with your thoughts on impact investing and the market for cleantech innovation in the current economy.

 

SHOW NOTE:
Tune in at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 12, 2011, to hear Dick’s conversation with the Chairman and Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com, Joel Makower.

 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Cynthia Ringo: Episode 39 of The Wendel Forum (27:43 min, mp3)

DBL Investors: http://www.dblinvestors.com/

California Cleantech Innovation Conference: http://www.grow-california.com/conferences/clean-tech-innovation/

Dick Lyons website bio: www.wendel.com/rlyons

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

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