Panelists at the Kennedy School described the potential impact of “green banks,” institutions which seek to finance renewable energy initiatives, at an event Thursday.
Moderated by Asia Energy and Sustainability Initiative Director Edward Cunningham, the talk focused on expanding methods of funding renewable energy in New England. The panel featured a green bank director, a state legislator, the head of a non-profit that advocates for green investing, and the director of an energy consulting firm.
Massachusetts State Representative Paul W. Mark said green banks have the potential to introduce clean energy into a new market profitably.
“I think that’ll be the takeaway: that it can work, it’s been shown to work, and it’s worth the investment,” said Mark.
Bryan Garcia, the executive director of the Connecticut Green Bank, said that because green banks involve collaboration between public and private actors, success depends on developing strong partnerships with government officials.
“I think it comes down to people… trying to find awesome public servants who are willing to commit their time and be very mission-driven to something they know is outside of them… It’s a ‘Thank God it’s Monday’ kind of attitude,” said Garcia, whose organization won the 2017 Innovations in American Government Awards.
Cunningham also pointed out that green banks could require a significant time investment, just as solar energy took many years to become integrated into the economy. However, speakers said green banks would be worth the gains in energy efficiency in the long run.
“It was only because of massive investments by a lot of governments, Germany and Spain and China—that was the only reason why solar became commercially valuable technology,” Carter Wall, the managing director of consulting firm Franklin Beach Energy, said.
Both Garcia and Jeffrey Schub, the executive director of nonprofit Coalition for Green Capital, said green banks are limited by consumer demand. Unfortunately, Schub said, renewable energy sources do not have the same mass appeal as the iPhone he waited in a long line to buy.
“I think the role of government and policymakers here [in] some ways needs to change to be more about how to enable people to really want it,” said Schub.
While green banks involve large private and public entities, Mark said individuals can have an impact on creating a greener society as well through grassroots advocacy.
“For a cleaner environment at the government level, it’s important that you stay in touch with the people who are elected to represent you,” Mark said. “Let them know that this is policy that’s important to me, I care about the future.”
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