HSU Plays Major Role in Energy Savings - Humboldt State Now

HSU Plays Major Role in Energy Savings

A Humboldt State University graduate student and three HSU alumni are part of a grant team that has won $4.4 million in federal stimulus funding to support the development of the North Coast Energy Independence Program.

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Beckie Menten, a graduate student in HSU’s Energy, Environment, and Society program, is part of a team that recently won $4.4 million in federal stimulus funding to support the development of the North Coast Energy Independence Program.

The seven-county municipal financing initiative is aimed at fostering green economic development through government loans for energy efficiency projects, like solar panels, repaid through property tax.

The HSU student and alumni instrumental in shaping the grant proposal include: Beckie Menten, a graduate student in Energy, Environment, and Society; alumni Kirk Girard (’88), Humboldt County Community Development Director; and Dave Carter (‘05) and Rebecca Crowe (‘97) of the engineering firm Winzler & Kelly in Eureka. All the alumni hold environment-related degrees.

Menten, whose master’s thesis analyzes municipal financing of energy efficiency efforts, advised on grant program design and helped write the proposal submitted to the California Energy Commission. Girard, like Menten, a former co-director of Humboldt State’s Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT), envisioned the regional scale of the program and had a central role in coordinating it among the seven participating counties.

Carter worked on technical advising components, including cost effectiveness calculations. Crowe laid out the grant’s scope and Katherine Gledhill of West Coast Watersheds (supporting staff of the North Coast Integrated Regional Water Management Plan) completed the proposal’s organization, final technical writing and final editing.

“There was a highly skilled and collaborative team behind this success,” Menten said. She said municipal financing programs are mechanisms enabling government to lend money to property owners within a legislatively established “district.” When a property owner contracts with the government to finance, say, solar panels for a house, the loan is placed as a first-position lien on the property and repaid through property tax.

Menten said such mechanisms function essentially the same way as a community facilities district or special assessment district, except the taxation is 100 percent voluntary.

Menten is scheduled to complete her master’s thesis this spring, titled Municipal Financing Programs as an Option to Overcoming Barriers to Energy Efficiency. One of the main obstacles, she found, is the upfront $5,000-$7,000 needed to make a house more energy efficient. The model of municipal financing examined in her thesis and backed by the new grant provides the low-risk capital to overcome that initial barrier. It enables homeowners to save energy and exploit major returns on investment.

“My year at CCAT and our retrofit to it taught me leadership—I’ve always gravitated toward those kinds of leadership positions—and I’ve worked for three years part-time for the City of Arcata as an energy program specialist,” Menten related. She counts herself a champion of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements in Humboldt County.

Menten made a point of building relationships with as many local stakeholders as she could. “This was something I really, really wanted to do. I’ve never been one to be content with just academic application,” she said.

A $15,000 Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation Environmental Fellowship she won in 2008 made most of her networking efforts and volunteer work possible. That included crucial time to pitch the idea to Humboldt authorities and agencies and encourage commercial property and homeowners alike to take full advantage of energy efficiency retrofits. “I volunteered many hours on this program and on trips to the Bay Area for workshops on program design, and learned the issues fluently. I was able to speak before the California Energy Commission to present this program for Humboldt.”

Menten’s studies focus on the role local governments can play in adapting communities to what she calls “a climate change-defined world.” As a City of Arcata employee, she is at work on the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals set in the City Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.

Scheduled to graduate in May, Menten plans to continue her work at the state, national, and international levels, exploring comparative approaches to curbing emissions and eventually influencing climate change legislation.

The $4.4 million of municipal financing for the North Coast Energy Independence Program will build on the successful Sonoma County counterpart, but on a regional basis to capitalize on efficiency. On-the-ground implementation will rest with each of the seven counties which, in addition to lead-applicant Humboldt, are Del Norte, Lake, Mendocino, Siskiyou, Sonoma, and Trinity.

Approximately $22 million in rebates, incentives and other sources of financing will match the grant.

The $4.4 million flows from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government’s ‘stimulus’ package adopted early in 2009. The money is distributed to the California Energy Commission by the U.S. Department of Energy, which approved guidelines developed by the commission for releasing the funds through the State Energy Program. The $4.4 million stems from about $30 million apportioned for Municipal Financing Programs. Humboldt County was one of five successful applicants, ranking second in the state.

The Humboldt grant team included county staff, among them Norma Lorenzo, John Miller and Paula Mushrush.

Beckie Menten can be reached at bjm32@humboldt.edu and beckiej9@gmail.com.