It’s always sunny
Opportunities abound for credit unions interested in solar energy lending, said two experts speaking during the conference, but credit unions will have to effectively present that as an option to members if they hope to harness that potential business.
Paul Schwabe, senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, noted that local electricity prices are a key factor to developing solar energy, meaning that the bulk of interest in solar lending has come from states “with comparatively higher electricity prices.”
California, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada and Texas have had the biggest solar energy impact to date, according to the SEIA/GTM Solar Market Insight Report, but Schwabe and others noted that those projects can be effective in other places as well.
Schwabe was joined by Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy, senior advisor at 100 Resilient Cities, who emphasized that forces such as natural disasters can threaten cities’ operational functions. Resilience, he said, can reduce and help prevent the impact of those shocks, resulting in an accelerated recovery and improved quality of life.
And credit unions can help with that, he said, by encouraging the use of solar energy. While solar lending programs has its challenges – including unsecured loans, specialized underwriting, custom documentation, and the risk of non-payment and unretrieved collateral – he said it may be worth the risk both for CUs and consumers, since such programs sometimes carry rates as low as 0 percent and also often include rebates.
But, he noted, credit unions must present these opportunities effectively, such as through community solar programs like solar farms that invest in one project but allow for multiple subscribers. Those sorts of projects, he added, can give flexible loan offerings and an introduction to solar lending to a lower credit consumers. The idea is that the community solar project transcends into a bridge program in the future toward another type of loan program.
Schwabe and Sarkozy-Banoczy emphasized that education and advocacy are pivotal in the mass integration of solar energy and that, ultimately, credit unions have to look at how borrowers want to work with solar
“I’m willing to bet that where there’s been disasters in place – maybe in Puerto Rico – there may be movement faster [for solar integration] in those places because there’s a necessity to make it happen in the next few months to years, whereas in other places it’ll be more contextual based on the demand from education,” Sarkozy-Banoczy concluded.