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

[Editor’s note: Thanks to guest blogger Garret Murai for sharing this news with The Wendel Forum.  Garret is a construction litigation attorney at Wendel Rosen.  He posts frequently on construction issues at his blog www.CalConstructionBlawg.com.]

Construction Partner Garret D. Murai

Construction Partner Garret D. Murai

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research’s Solar Permitting Work Group has published a guide to the solar construction permitting process entitled California Solar Permitting Guidebook.  The guidebook addresses California laws and regulations, the process for project approvals, and recommendations for improving permit processes for solar installations.

In other energy news, Energy Upgrade California, an alliance of California cities, counties, investor-owned utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison, Southern Gas Company, and San Diego Gas & Electric Company, and others, has established a program to help train building professionals in the latest home performance standards, listing in an online contractor directory, and offering connections to clients looking for services.  If you are a contractor click on the link “I’m a contractor or rater.”

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 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 69 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on July 7, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Gary Price, a tax partner at Sensiba San Filippo, one of the Bay Area’s largest accounting firms and a green business certified under the Bay Area Green Business Program

Gary Price

Dick and Price discuss how in the last few years, it’s become economical for businesses to use renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind, which provide energy without using oil or gas. Because buildings and their occupants produce a significant amount of pollution, even  businesses like accounting, law and other service firms can help the environment by buying clean energy from roof-mounted solar power systems that replace or supplement power from the grid. Even if those businesses occupy just one floor of a big building, they can contribute to lower energy consumption.

Renewable energy used to cost more than electricity purchased from utility companies.  But the 2008 renewable energy credit program helped bring prices down.  Within just four or five years, companies using renewable energy will see the payback, resulting in real cash savings. Using solar and wind energy also has related insurance and bank loan benefits.

A new clean tech trend is that larger renewable energy companies – perhaps a solar company or even a company that produces a part of a solar energy system – have accelerated the use of solar power by become financing companies.  As a result, customers may not need cash at all to buy electricity from roof-mounted solar systems. Solar and wind energy options will continue to grow and experience increased demand, which will further drop the price point.

If a business is interested in switching to renewable energy, Price recommends finding an expert to “put the whole thing together.” Construction and engineering companies, for example, have savvy energy departments. Law and accounting firms also have specialists that put green projects together.

What would it take for your business to buy clean energy?

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Gary Price: Episode 69 of The Wendel Forum(27:53 mins; mp3)

Sensiba San Filippo website: http://www.ssfllp.com/

Price’s article on Sensible Savings: http://www.ssfllp.com/sustainable-savings-how-businesses-can-profit-big-from-clean-technology/

Bay Area Green Business Program website: http://www.greenbiz.ca.gov/

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

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

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