David Gibson, an expert in clean energy and energy efficiency, on Aug. 2 announced his intention to run as a Green Party candidate in the 2020 U.S. Senate race against incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins. 

Come January, Gibson will be busy procuring 2,000 signatures needed from registered Green Party voters to place him on the primary election ballot.

Gibson made the announcement during his talk at a Citizens' Climate Lobby meeting at Belfast Free Library. His presentation focused on H.P. 1177, a bill he is currently working on with Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, which would set up a statewide "Green Bank" to help ordinary Mainers finance clean energy projects.

The bill is modeled after a similar program in Connecticut that has generated over a billion dollars in private funding for green initiatives in the last seven years.

"The Connecticut Green Bank is the most successful example in the United States," Gibson said. "They used (approximately) $170 million in public funding to leverage private funds 7:1, implementing over $1 billion in clean energy projects over the last seven years."

According to Gibson, the Green Bank is intended to "crowd in" outside capital, reducing risk and other barriers for local banks, credit unions and other lending partners to participate in efficiency and clean energy investments.

He said this can be done in a number ways, from providing a "loan loss reserve" that guarantees other lenders will not suffer from excessive losses, to credit enhancements that make financing accessible to those with low credit scores, low incomes, or low equity in their homes, which are traditional barriers to borrowing capital.

"We have to change the whole lending paradigm to move forward with these projects," Gibson said.

Maine spends $4 billion to import fossil fuels, and that disproportionately affects low-income people, he said. The amount works out to be $3,500 per household, he said.

According to Gibson, some of the reasons people do not seek out renewable energy projects is either they are not aware of them, or they think they cannot afford them.

"They don't realize they can take steps to affect their electric bill," he said. Energy audits are a good starting point, he noted, and heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat.

Rep. Zeigler said in an email to The Journal that the bill would "fill in the funding gaps to allow start-up low-interest loans for renewable energy projects to be built."

In the past, Zeigler said, it has been hard to get the "upfront" money for these projects. One of the criticisms has been that renewable energy is only for the rich. "But once the projects are started, private capital becomes involved," he said.

"In the case of the Connecticut (Green Bank), there has been a return of five dollars in private capital for every one dollar loaned," Zeigler said.

Maine has the governmental structure to handle loans, he said; the complexity of the bill is only in setting up oversight. "It really isn't any more than a loan structure and one that would have a return so people could invest in it," he said.

Currently, Efficiency Maine can help to "tighten up your house" and buy a heat pump, but if the providers keep raising rates, it really only helps solve half the problem.

"I want Mainers to control their electrical cost by being able to either buy renewable energy systems for their houses or to be able to buy into something like a solar farm," Zeigler said. "This bill is a win-win for our state. We had a lot of bills pass this year to help with our renewable energy, but this one deals with funding those bills."

Gibson said the bill has been carried forward to the next legislative session, "so it should be brought up in January, and hopefully passed by April/May 2020."

"We expect to have another meeting or meetings with Hannah Pingree, director of innovation; Dan Burgess, director of energy, and others in Augusta to iron out the details before the bill is re-introduced," he said.