Green lending generates growth
Clean Energy Credit Union thrives by shifting members’ energy use.
Clean Energy Credit Union lists the tons of carbon pollution offset by funding green energy projects—more than 235,000 tons in 2020—right after net income in its annual report.
That positioning reflects the Centennial, Colo., credit union’s commitment to helping members play an active role in shifting the country to a greener future.
“We’re here to spread clean energy across our country and improve the environment,” says CEO Terri Mickelsen.
Clean Energy was chartered in September 2017 to provide loans that allow members to purchase clean energy products and services, including solar electric systems, electric vehicles, home energy renovations to improve energy efficiency, electric-assist bicycles, and net-zero energy homes.
The credit union has $24 million in assets, more than 3,000 members, 20 employees, and a loan portfolio of $44 million as of May 2021.
From April 2018 to April 2021, Clean Energy has made more than 4,000 clean energy loan originations totaling more than $60 million with no defaults.
It continues to grow its field of membership by adding “mission-aligned organizations” whose members, volunteers, and employees can join. Loan program partners, including state governments, get a discount of 0.25% to 0.50% on qualifying loans.
Clean Energy gained low-income designation in 2021.
Loan participations add liquidity
Mickelsen says consumers’ desire for clean energy loans, especially loans for adding home solar panels, helped Clean Energy make a $630,000 profit ahead of schedule in 2020. Its loan participation program boosted liquidity so the credit union Energy could approve more loans.
In 2020, the credit union sold $21.7 million in loan participations.
“Participating credit unions can learn a little bit about how solar loans work and participate in our portfolios, which are diversified geographically because we offer lending in many different states,” Mickelsen says.
‘We’re here to spread clean energy across our country and improve the environment.’
Clean Energy was founded by “clean energy geeks” who linked the online-only credit union to funding sources. Since it opened, most employees have used cloud-based connections to work at home and participate in virtual meetings.
New services added in 2020 included money market and checking accounts, share certificates, debit cards, and shared branch services. In 2021, Clean Energy plans to enhance online and mobile banking with mobile person-to-person payments and other features.
Managing the pace of growth is challenging, Mickelsen says.
Giving control to consumers
The credit union added a marketing position in 2021 to enhance social media channels, refresh the website, and add an education component on solar and clean energy products.
Clean Energy initially predicted most members would be young adults hoping to protect the planet’s future. But Mickelsen says many loans are made to “an older set looking to save costs on energy and become energy independent.”
The Texas energy crisis linked to a heavy freeze in February 2021, followed by record-setting heat waves in spring 2021, gave people of all ages an incentive to go green, she says.
“People see it as a way to be in control of their energy and their homes.”