CU Green Clean Energy Lending Platform: Energy and Climate Winner

  • April 16, 2019
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  • Danielle Jackson

In a world where we’re inundated with choices and challenges, people are taking charge of their own actions. They’re using reusable cups and mugs, they’re trying to be low (or zero!) waste, they’re installing solar panels on their homes. People are passionate about the ways they can make a difference not only in their own lives, but in the lives of the people around them. And the benefits are numerous, from lessened environmental impact to lower costs over time. However, the initial costs of some of these actions can be a deterrent. In particular, installing solar panels is expensive, despite the long-term savings. That’s where the CU Green Clean Energy Lending Platform comes in. We spoke to Mara Humphrey, from the Minnesota Credit Union Network, about the project and its inspirations.

CU Green Clean Energy Lending Platform — Energy and Climate

Presented by Stoel Rives

The CU Green Clean Energy Platform more than the sum of its parts. It’s a project designed to offer homeowners resources and loans as they investigate and transition to solar energy in their homes, and it’s also a lead-by-example program for credit unions across the state, and it’s a set of resources for anyone curious about solar energy transitions. By using the areas of expertise of a number of partners, and taking advantage of the things people already love about their credit unions, the Minnesota Credit Union Network, the Minnesota Credit Union Foundation, the Carolyn Foundation, the University of Minnesota and other partners have all come together to create a system that can improve the lives of individuals and communities, all at once.

This platform was inspired by the University of Minnesota’s Climate Smart Municipalities program and came from looking at the ways credit unions can plug in with existing work by offering financial expertise. Since the program debuted, the participating credit unions have “definitely seen an uptick in interest” in solar panels. That’s because the project makes thinking about solar so easy—interested homeowners can go to the Go Solar! web page to learn more about whether or not a solar panel could be a good fit for them and what steps to take next. Then, if the homeowners are interested, they can connect to their credit union, where they can receive 100 percent financing of their project at the lowest rate ever in Minnesota.

A Passion Project

One of the things that stands out to Mara about the CU Green Clean Energy Lending Platform is the passion around it. From the beginning of this project to the current day, it has been fueled by passion, from members, from employees, from partners and from community members. The project began when Senator Dave Senjem, from Rochester, realized that the Climate Smart Municipalities program was doing great work, but lacked the financial expertise to think about how to logistically fund the work. “They approached us, and…a lot of the values that we were looking at are values that a credit union has: member-owned, not-for-profit, locally based, local decision-making. [The idea of clean energy lending] really seemed to fit some of the values that members choose credit unions for.” The passion of employees to offer the features they know customers value was a driving factor in the project. “We just knew we had a passion and we wanted to find solutions…there’s a lot of passion about clean energy.”

In addition to their own passion, the Minnesota Credit Union Network was excited to offer a product they knew customers were passionate about. Existing programs like bicycle loans proved that customers were passionate about lessening their environmental impact, and the increasing interest in these loans has proven that they’re passionate about clean energy, and the ways they can make that a reality in their homes. Rather than the most easily marketable end-product or the publicity of doing good, the CU Green Clean Energy Lending Program has been developed with “the spirit of ‘let’s do this for the good of doing this,’” despite any challenges that may have caused in the process. That passion sparked the interest of other partners and allowed this project to continue to grow, providing benefits not only for the members of the credit unions themselves, but also “for the broader communities credit unions are in.”

More than anything, this project has been driven by passion and membership. That’s clearest when you look at the partners: two competing credit unions have been working together to provide the best possible product and loans for their members. Even though they could be competing for membership, the two “have come together with their love of the project to be partners.” No matter where you look in the CU Green Clean Energy Lending Platform, the passion of all the involved parties is clear. Just take a look at their website—partners from across the project pooled their resources to write, design and implement a website to share information with members.

Making Dreams Reality

When this project began, it was “very conceptual and nebulous,” but it quickly took shape into the award-winning project you’re reading about today. When asked about what the project’s biggest accomplish was, Mara jokingly replied, “Winning an award?” But she then more seriously explained, “In a couple years, we’ve gone from a very conceptual thing to having actual products to offer. Now we have a solar loan, we’re doing some lead-by-sample and working with credit unions to do energy efficiency audits.” In a short period of time, the project partners were able to take desire to be a catalyst for change around climate issues and make it a reality. They found partners, shared insights and collaborated with one another. The Award is just a metaphor for what’s possible when you bring together passion and determination.

Celebrate the CU Green Clean Energy Lending Platform

Do you have dreams you’d like to make into realities? Talk to the CU Green Clean Energy Lending Platform team about how they did it—or your options for a loan!—on May 22 at the Environmental Initiative Awards.

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