Vermont is a national leader in college energy efficiency financing

Burlington, VT

Vermont institutions of higher education are taking big steps to improve energy efficiency on their campuses and are committing real dollars to do so. Over the last nine months, a dozen Vermont colleges and the University of Vermont have partnered with Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric Department in publicly committing to establish green revolving funds. Collectively, they have pledged more than $16 million to these funds in support of energy efficiency improvements on their campuses. This means that Vermont has more participating institutions than any other state and is second only to California in total dollars committed to green revolving funds under the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s “Billion Dollar Green Challenge.”

Vermont institutions that have so far committed to establish green revolving funds are: Burlington College, Champlain College, Green Mountain College, Middlebury College, Saint Michael’s College, University of Vermont, Vermont Law School, and the Vermont State Colleges (Castleton State College, Community College of Vermont, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, and Vermont Technical College).

Green revolving funds are an innovative financing mechanism that enables institutions and businesses to capitalize on the savings produced by energy efficiency projects. As the funds are invested in projects, they are replenished by savings realized through reductions in energy usage. This encourages institutions to make long-term investments in energy efficiency and provides them with a ready source of upfront capital to invest in new projects.

The push for green revolving funds was catalyzed in the fall of 2011 with the announcement of the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s “Billion Dollar Green Challenge,” which called on colleges and universities to invest a total of one billion dollars in energy efficiency projects. Efficiency Vermont, working with the support of the High Meadows Fund, helped promote the effort in Vermont by reaching out to colleges and universities to explore and model the benefits of green revolving fund investments on their campuses.

Officials at many Vermont colleges have already begun the process of generating proposals for funding, and are eager to undertake energy efficiency projects. 

“Burlington College is particularly excited to participate in the green revolving fund, as our new campus is a perfect location for sustainability projects,” President Christine Plunkett said, referring to its new campus - a 94,000 square foot historic building on 32 acres.

Establishing a green revolving fund helps further several goals for Champlain College, including providing funding to support continued upgrades of historic buildings, and improve on their existing and successful partnerships with Burlington Electric Department and Vermont Gas Systems. It also allows the college to provide an attractive investment opportunity for new and returning donors who are interested in supporting sustainability efforts on campus. According to Christina Erickson, Champlain’s Sustainability Director, the college will also use their fund as a vehicle to both broaden and deepen engagement on campus: “We are excited by the possibility of involving students, faculty, and staff in various aspects of the fund, including proposing and evaluating projects, monitoring performance, and marketing our successes.”

“Over the past decade, GMC has invested an average of $1.8 million per year in infrastructure projects to improve the energy efficiency of its facilities, including a new biomass facility, window replacements, and major upgrades in lighting and electrical systems. The revolving fund will create valuable new opportunities to lower consumption and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Green Mountain College President Paul Fonteyn. “Energy efficiency is not only a sensible way to create long-term financial savings, it also provides ways for our students to gain hands-on experience in planning and executing efficiency projects on campus.”

"Establishing a green revolving fund made perfect sense for Middlebury College based on its history of energy saving projects with Efficiency Vermont," said Middlebury College Director of Sustainability Integration Jack Byrne. "Since 2000, we've completed $1.14 million of energy efficiency and conservation projects that are saving us $378,000 dollars a year. Our new fund helps us do more projects that we might not otherwise have pursued because now we have additional resources."  

For Saint Michael’s College, the establishment of a green revolving fund is in line with the institution’s strategic plan which states, in part, that “the College will implement institutional practices and policies that promote awareness of the current and future impacts of actions on human and natural communities, including the incorporation of ideals of sustainability into operations, the academic program, and the daily lives of individuals.”  Sustainability Coordinator Heather Lynch notes that “the green revolving fund is a perfect example of the forward thinking the college must take to advance its sustainability program, realizing that the decisions and actions we take now will have a positive impact far into our future.”    

Since 2001, Saint Michael’s College has completed 49 energy efficiency projects, and more are in the works.  Those projects to date have saved over 1.1 million kWh and over $168,000 annually.  Initially the plan is for the fund support additional energy efficiency projects, but in future the college hopes to expand the fund to involve staff, faculty and students in generating project proposals that touch upon not only efficiency, but also renewable energy and green campus initiatives.  “It is the prospect of involving the whole Saint Michael’s community in this initiative that excites us most” explained Lynch.

The University of Vermont has made the largest commitment to green revolving funds of any college or university in the country, earmarking $13 million for the effort. To fund the program, the university will reallocate about 10 percent of its cash on hand, which is normally invested for short periods in low-risk financial instruments. These funds will instead be directed to such energy efficiency initiatives as installing demand-controlled ventilation systems in buildings; replacing external lighting across campus with energy efficient LED fixtures; and upgrading ventilation and lighting controls in older facilities. 

“We think investing our cash in energy efficiency projects, which have a better rate of return than many of our current investments, is a fiscally and environmentally sound way to put our money to work,” said Richard Cate, UVM’s vice president for finance and administration.

“Vermont Law School is pleased to join the growing number of Vermont’s institutions of higher education that recognize green revolving funds as a smart investment,” said VLS Dean and President Jeff Shields. “Vermont Law School has long been a leader in energy efficiency, from our green buildings to our pioneering courses in energy and the environment. Having an energy conservation sustainability loan fund will save money, reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and demonstrate the environmental stewardship values of our students, faculty, staff and trustees.”

“As a system of public colleges, committed by mission to serve ‘for the benefit of Vermont’ and focused on providing an accessible and affordable higher education to Vermonters, we can never lose sight of what drives our costs,” commented Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan. “While the Vermont State Colleges remain the most affordable post-secondary options in the state, health care, energy and static levels of state funding for the operation of the colleges continue to leave a heavy burden on students through tuition costs.  This fund will allow the colleges to make smart investments that are good for the bottom line and good for the environment.”

In commending the institutions for the commitments they have made, Burlington Electric Department General Manager Barb Grimes said: “BED considers these revolving loan funds as a great way to make deep efficiency investments with very good paybacks. The institutions creating these funds are thinking long term about how to save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tread more gently on the planet.  This type of forward thinking planning benefits us all.”

Efficiency Vermont Director Jim Merriam agreed, noting that “green revolving funds have proven to be a highly effective investment for colleges and universities, enabling them to save money and energy both immediately and over the long term. We are thrilled that Vermont has become a national leader in this effort, and we look forward to partnering with all the Vermont institutions that have made commitments in order to help identify projects that take full advantage of this innovative financing tool.”

About Efficiency Vermont

Efficiency Vermont was created by the Vermont Legislature and is regulated by the Vermont Public Utility Commission to help all Vermonters reduce energy costs, strengthen the economy, and protect Vermont's environment. For more information, contact Efficiency Vermont at 888-921-5990 or visit www.efficiencyvermont.com

Efficiency Vermont
Jeff Buell
Phone: (802) 540-7662
jbuell@veic.org