D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser wants to set aside $7 million in city funds next year to lend money to building owners and developers to make improvements that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the nation’s capital.
The proposal for a “green bank” would have D.C. emulate similar but larger efforts underway in Connecticut, New York and several other Democrat-controlled states.
Tommy Wells, Bowser’s director of the Energy and Environment Department, said the fund would allow large building owners and those undertaking renovations to obtain affordable loans to replace aging heating, ventilation and cooling systems — among the largest sources of carbon emissions in the city. Low-interest loans would also be available to fund more-experimental technologies, such as geothermal heating from D.C. sewer lines, he said.
“We have many buildings with HVAC systems that are reaching their end-of-life cycles, and that’s a problem — 74 percent of all greenhouse gases in the city come from energy consumption of buildings,” Wells said. “How do they get good, cheap financing? With a green bank, we’re in a position to fund major renovations with high-efficiency systems.”
In a statement, Bowser said the fund would allow Washington to “lead the way,” becoming the first U.S. city to have a green bank.
“By creating a Green Bank, we will create more jobs for D.C. residents, which will allow us to continue our push for inclusive prosperity,” she said.
But the mayor’s reference to the District as a city — and for the purposes of ranking it first among municipalities — runs counter to her stance that D.C. should be considered a state.
Bowser usually refers to the District as a jurisdiction with the combined responsibilities of “a city, a county and a state.” Last year, she presided over the drafting of a state constitution and led a successful referendum campaign to win voter approval to petition Congress to recognize the District as the 51st state.
But when it comes to touting the District’s environmental achievements, Bowser seems to refer to her home town as a city. When she announced a contract to purchase wind power last year, she said the deal was “the largest wind-power deal of its kind ever entered into by an American city.”
The District’s green bank would be a fraction of the size of those that exist in states. Connecticut launched its green bank with an annual contribution of $35 million, or five times that proposed in D.C. New York’s began with a $210 million investment and plans to grow its fund to $1 billion.
Wells, however, said each dollar in D.C. public investment could leverage $5 in private financing. A department fact sheet on the program also suggests that the District could accelerate borrowing by issuing bonds that would be paid for in part with the $7 million in annual financing in Bowser’s proposal.
In addition to replacing heating and cooling systems, city literature says the fund could be used to underwrite loans for rooftop solar systems with batteries to guarantee energy for building occupants. The money could also fund “District-scale infrastructure such as anaerobic digesters, microgrid infrastructure, or fuel cells.”
To operate like a state green bank, the District would have to set up an independent financing authority. Bowser is proposing a board of 11 mayoral appointees with experience in finance and sustainability to run the bank.