Oct 31, 2011


I'm normally a jeans and t-shirt gal, but this weekend I switched out my casual wear for business attire (portland-style of course!) and headed over to the 2011 Net Impact National Conference.  Net Impact selected five Portland organizations to challenge conference participants with an obstacle that, if solved, could generate serious impact both locally and around the country.  If you know Focus the Nation, then you know that we never back down from an opportunity to ask the tough questions.  With some of the nation’s brightest MBA students in attendance, we proposed our question by consolidating a few themes that emerged from last year's Clean Energy Forums in Ohio and Oregon: “What are innovative, replicable financing models that can be used by tax-exempt institutions to implement small to mid-sized renewable energy projects?”   
As FTN teams have started implementing solutions, many have struggled with funding for renewable energy solutions.  Community energy projects often utilize tax credits and incentives, but for students working through their colleges and universities, tax credits aren't applicable (non-profit institutions like hospitals, colleges, public institutions are tax-exempt and cannot access the tax credits used by residents and businesses).  Furthermore, the financial incentives that are available for renewable energy are being cut in many states, and a wavering political climate shows little promise of federal policy changes.  But that doesn't mean that campuses and their surrounding neighborhoods can't collaborate on projects. Community-based financial models, applicable regardless of policies and tax structures are needed to successfully normalize and integrate renewable energy.
The Net Impact attendees put their thinking caps on and generated some of the coolest ideas we’ve seen.  Are universities a good fit to house a community’s energy needs? How can renewable energy projects be used to span the campus-community divide?  What will it take to create a buzz and excitement about energy efficiency and renewable energy projects? Can we generate funds for a project by selling solar beer and burgers? What if we created an “Energy GPA?" Is installing energy efficiency upgrades the future of work study jobs? We'll be taking these ideas about how to finance and implement community energy and generating a toolkit for students across the country to use as they work on these projects. Locally-generated solutions. Nation-wide changes.   
At the conference we met students bursting with innovative ideas about how to make positive change through business. We are honored to have been a part of such a great event.  Stay tuned for more pictures and updates from the 2011 Net Impact Conference, but in the mean time, check out this awesome video from Sustainable Business Oregon

What do you think? How can the resources at a campus and its surrounding community collaborate to implement renewable energy?