Connecticut U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal told a receptive audience at the Yale School of Management on Wednesday that the timing has never been better for Congress to pass national Green Bank legislation.
The Green Bank Act is a bill introduced by Murphy and co-sponsored by Blumenthal to create a national green bank modeled after the Connecticut Green Bank.
“This is the perfect moment” for Congress to act on the legislation, Murphy said. He said numbers show that solar and wind energy usage is up from 14 to 17 percent in the past year while the use of traditional energy sources — coal, oil and gas “have remained stagnant.”
Blumenthal added that he is “very excited to help lead this effort” to pass national Green Bank legislation. He said “this Green Bank can be a critical tool and can also be a bipartisan effort in Congress.”
Green banks utilize public seed money to attract larger, private investments in clean energy and energy efficiency projects. According to the Connecticut Green Bank, since its founding five years ago, it has leveraged more than $800 million in clean energy business investments, created the equivalent of more than 12,000 jobs, and reduced over 2 million tons of CO2 emissions over the lifetime of its financed projects.
A Green bank is a public-private financing institution that obtains low-cost capital and then uses that cheaper money to support clean energy projects at a cost that is lower than purely private sector transactions, resulting in significant cost savings.
Green banks have the authority to raise capital through various means, including issuing bonds, selling equity, legislative appropriations, dedication of utility regulatory funds, or foundation grants for the purpose of supporting clean energy and energy efficiency projects through financing tools such as loans and guarantees, often below commercial rates.
Murphy and Blumenthal held a roundtable discussion at the School of Management on Green banks and were joined by Bryan Garcia, president and CEO of the Connecticut Green Bank; Jeff Schub, executive director of the Coalition for Green Capital; and students and faculty from Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment; and representatives from local companies that have benefited from green bank investments.
Garcia said residents of Connecticut have much to be proud of when it comes to the role the state has shown on the Green bank initiative.
“Transforming public policy into practice takes leadership,” Garcia said. “And we have the best public servants in the state and the country on this issue. We are leading a national movement in the Constitution state.”
But while Blumenthal, Murphy, and other pro Green bank leaders and speakers were full of praise for Connecticut’s efforts in showing the way on new energy initiatives, they also acknowledged that there is still a political battle to be won in Washington on the issue.
“Nothing is more politically charged than climate change,” Murphy said. “But there is a transition happening in this country.
Both Murphy and Blumenthal emphasized that to get the necessary Republican votes in Congress to pass national Green bank legislation, the discussion has to move from an environmental debate to an economic one.
“Let’s be honest, we’re talking about speaking to Republicans,” Murphy said. “We need businesses to help move the GOP on this issue. This isn’t just an issue for academics and environmentalists. Are we going to capture all these new jobs in the United States or let them go to other countries in the world?”
Added Blumenthal: “There is a lot of money looking for good investments in this country and worldwide. Our rail system, for instance, is in danger of being at the level of a third-world country. Look at all the jobs that would be created if we got serious about really investing in a first-rate rail system in this country.
“And, a first-rate rail system would obviously pay dividends in helping our environment,” Blumenthal said.
But understanding how politically charged Washington can be, Blumenthal added: “We need to act now. If we lose this moment, it won’t come around again.”
One of those participating in the roundtable was Brian Farnen, chief legal officer of the Connecticut Green Bank.
He said he often thinks about, “whether there will be a time when we’ll look back and think how silly it was for us to argue whether there really was a debate over whether climate change was real or not.
“It makes me think back to the debate long ago about whether or not cigarettes really caused cancer,” Farnen said.
Schub said that across the nation Green Banks are responsible for generating $2 billion in new investments. He said new Green banks are opening around the country, and that a Green Bank program recently started in New York state has already generated between $500 million and $600 million in investment.