A new, binational investment platform is mobilizing nearly US$4.5 billion for a menu of regional sustainability projects across the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region that includes home energy retrofits, solar development, and efforts to reclaim abandoned coal mining lands for forestry.
In 2020, its first full year of operations, the Great Lakes Impact Investment Platform reported 1.9 million tons of carbon reduced or stored, 13.6 gigawatt-hours of electricity saved, and 4,170 acres/1,769 hectares of forest and farm land certified.
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“The Platform features projects that are intended to deliver environmental and social impacts across four themes—forestry, smart water systems, agriculture, and energy,” the site states. On energy, “focus areas include high-efficiency equipment and technologies, renewable energy generation, storage, incentives to reduce energy use, and other opportunities.”
At a time when “global capital markets are hungry” for green investments, said Dave Naftzger, executive director of the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, one goal of the 40 projects on the platform is to draw investors and philanthropic donors away from the U.S. east and west coasts, where they’ve traditionally looked for opportunities. “Especially for investors who care about water, they should look to the Great Lakes as a matter of course,” he told Energy News Network.
But “clean energy-related investments are also a robust and growing sector, including projects tapping green bonds, property-assessed clean energy [PACE] programs, and other financial tools to leverage public and private funds,” the news story adds, citing Naftzger. “Even with increasing federal action, including incentives and programs under the new U.S. infrastructure law, a swift and equitable clean energy transition will still depend on private investment and public-private collaborations.”
Energy News Network casts the platform as “something of a matchmaking service, publicizing green investment opportunities and projects and helping to connect funders and lenders with these initiatives, while also allowing projects to learn from each other.” Highlights so far have included:
• A renewable energy co-op in Ontario;
• A municipal solar program in LaCrosse, Wisconsin;
• A green bond program run by Detroit utility giant DTE;
• An energy efficiency program in Michigan;
• Green roof and energy efficiency investments in Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago; and
• A bid by a firm called Quantified Ventures to use carbon credits to fund reforestation of former coal mine land in Pennsylvania, with the possibility of extending the effort to Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
“The mining has scarred the landscape. There are limited plants and trees—it’s not a healthy habitat for birds,” , said Managing Director Todd Appel. “So we’re going to rip up [and replace] the soil to enable planting of new trees and identify landowners to participate.”
If it works, “we’ll seek to scale this up. There are millions of acres this could be applied to,” he added. “The other goal is to prove carbon markets can enable this work.”