Wednesday, November 30, 2016

CalSTRS Highlights Green Investments

Green Bonds Featured

The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) has been an international leader in green investments and pushing for corporate accountability on environmental and climate issues.

CalSTRS recently released their tenth annual Green Initiative Task Force Report,  highlighting these activities.  The report discusses the growth of green bond investments.

Green Initiative Task Force Report 2016

According to CalSTRS, the growth in green bonds aligns with the commitment CalSTRS Chief Executive Officer Jack Ehnes made during the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit. At that time, Mr. Ehnes announced CalSTRS would more than double its clean energy and technology investments from $1.4 billion to $3.7 billion over the next five years. Green bonds have played a significant part.  Mr. Ehnes also participated in the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris last year, speaking about the importance of green investing.

CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes at COP21 in Paris, December, 2015

“We like green bonds because they offer competitive investment-grade and high-yield returns that fit in well with our Fixed Income Portfolio,” said CalSTRS Investment Officer Cathy DiSalvo, who manages the green bonds program. “Organizations issue green bonds because they have projects to fund that have both environmental and economic benefits.” DiSalvo represents CalSTRS on the Climate Bonds Standards Advisory Board, an entity developing standards and certification protocols for green bond issuances worldwide.

“This past August, CalSTRS purchased $5 million in green bonds from the Asian Development Bank, making us one of about 70 investors in the bank’s $1.3 billion issuance,” Ms. DiSalvo said.

CalSTRS Green Bond Holdings
Source:  Green Initiative Task Force Report 2016

In addition to the Asian Development Bank bonds, CalSTRS green bond investments have benefitted projects throughout the world, including adaptation projects in Africa, municipal projects in Sweden, renewable energy in Korea and green buildings in the United States.

According to CalSTRS, projects funded with green bonds in 2016 included:
  • Renewable energy—from Export-Import Bank of Korea, Georgia Power, Westar Energy, the European Investment Bank, and Morgan Stanley.
  • Climate change mitigation and adaption—from the African Development Bank, Export Development Canada, Kommuninvest (Sweden), and Nederlandse Waterschapsbank (The Netherlands).
  • Public transportation and waste management—from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and ING Bank.
  • Hybrid/electric vehicles—Toyota Motor Corp.
One sector that has not benefitted from U.S. public employee pension funds such as CalSTRS is local government projects in the United States. This is because U.S. municipal bonds usually have very low returns because the income on them is tax-free.  Since CalSTRS can't take advantage of this favorable tax treatment, the bonds are much less attractive than corporate bonds or bonds from other countries.  State Treasurer John Chiang is expected to discuss this issue in an upcoming report on green bonds (CalGreenFinance post here).  California government agencies have issued over $1 billion in green bonds in 2016, more than double the amount issued in 2015 (CalGreenFinance post with listing of California municipal green bond issuances here).

CalSTRS cites several benefits of green bonds, including price stability due to the fact that the bonds are traded less frequently than standard bonds because they are purchased mostly by buy and hold investors. They also offer increased reporting to track the progress of projects the bonds finance.

In addition to green bond, stock and real estate holdings,  CalSTRS is investing in clean technology opportunities as part of their venture capital and other funding.  The chart below summarizes nearly $700 million in holdings:

CalSTRS Clean Technology/Clean Energy Investments
Source:  Green Initiative Task Force Report 2016
Even as CalSTRS shows global leadership on climate and environmental investment, some CalSTRS members would like them to be more aggressive in their divestments from fossil fuel related companies.  CalSTRS has already moved to divest from coal companies (see Reuters story here), but groups such as Fossil Free California are pushing them to remove oil holdings from their portfolio.

"Members of the CalSTRS board are increasingly tuned in to the dangers of climate change," says Sandy Emerson of Fossil Free California.  "They are beginning to adjust their financial decisions to focus on more sustainable holdings. We at Fossil Free California applaud their efforts. But so far the shift in investment policy is not large enough or fast enough to counter the urgent dangers of the climate crisis. CalSTRS must do more, for the sake of the environment — and for the sake of teachers’ pensions."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

California Green Muni Bond Issuances Top $1 Billion in 2016

More Than Double 2015

California government agencies have issued over $1.1 billion in green bonds in 2016, more than double the amount issued in 2015.  This is part of a worldwide trend of rapidly accelerating use of green finance tools.

The most recent issuance from the Los Angeles County Sanitation District put California over the $1 billion mark for the first time.  The Sanitation District $170 million bond assists with recycled water and related projects.

California Green Muni Bond issuances since the State of California
Issued the first one in 2016

The Climate Bonds Initiative tracks green bonds worldwide and reports that, as of this writing, there have been over $60 billion in green bonds issued globally in 2016, including bonds for both public agencies and private entities.

Green bonds are used for infrastructure projects that contribute to environmental and climate goals.  These can range from green building to renewable energy to clean water and more.

California government agencies aren't alone in issuing green bonds.  California based Apple issued a $1.5 billion green bond as part of a larger offering in February (Reuters article here).   California PACE providers have also been issuing green bonds to assist their home and business energy and water retrofit programs.  California based Renovate America, for example, issued a $320 million green bond in late September (details here).

California leaders see the value of improving the green bond marketplace. “Greater use of green bonds could provide a secure and growing funding stream for governments and private industries to meet the challenge of curbing climate pollution,” said state Treasurer John Chiang in late 2015. “We want to see what we can do at the California State Treasurer’s Office to unlock the potential of the green bond market and create a bigger market for these investment tools.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Clean Manufacturers Can Qualify for Sales Tax Exclusion

Tesla used it.  So has Karma Automotive, fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy, biofuel producer CleanWorld and many other clean technology, alternative energy and recycled product manufacturers.

What they used is a little-known state of California program that allows certain manufacturers to avoid paying sales tax on manufacturing equipment.

With sales taxes running as high as 9% in many areas, the savings can be quite substantial.  Tesla, for example, has already received many millions of dollar in benefits.  For a relatively small manufacturers buying around $2 million in equipment, the benefit can approach $200,000.  This can make a huge difference for a new or growing company.

The California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority (CAEATFA) administers the program.  CAEATFA, chaired by state Treasurer John Chiang, can allocate up to $100 million in exclusions per year to qualified manufactures.

This tax benefit can be used by many types of manufacturers, including:
  • alternative energy such as solar photovoltaic, biogas, biomass, landfill gas, and renewable fuels;
  • advanced transportation such as electric vehicles; 
  • recycled feedstock users such as composters; and
  • advanced manufacturers, as defined

"We were successful last year to have the continuation of the sales tax exclusion program," says Treasurer Chiang in a recently posted video about the program.  "We think this is an important element in partnering with alternative energy and advanced transportation companies ... to make sure that we continue to spur innovation .. to spur growth in these advanced fields through the 21st century."

California State Treasurer John Chiang

Since it is a tax exclusion, companies receiving the benefit do not receive a check or a tax deduction.  Instead, they are authorized to avoid paying sales tax on qualified equipment.  The benefit doesn't come to them unless and until they actually buy manufacturing equipment.  CAEATFA Executive Director Deana Carrillo is quoted in a Los Angeles Times article  late last year explaining the basic mechanics of the program:

"We're not writing anyone a check.  We're the last dollar in. These guys have got to get their financing together, make their decision, buy their property, get ready to buy the equipment, and then we're giving them a benefit at the margin."  (Source:  here)
Some of the companies that have benefitted from CAEATFA Sales Tax Exclusion
(Note:  Tesla has benefitted from the exclusion under additional applications)  Source:  here

In 2016,CAEATFA reached the $100 million benefit cap early in the year and they are expected to reach the 2017 cap within the fist few months of the year.  They do, however, accept applications on a rolling basis, per the schedule posted on their website here.  Their next application deadline is October 14.  Applications are scored and the highest scoring applications will have the advantage when the 2017 exclusions are given out.

For more information, including application materials, FAQs, fee schedules and more, see the CAEATFA Sales Tax Exclusion website at:

Monday, September 19, 2016

California Green Muni Bond Issuances Top $1.6 Billion

Port of Los Angeles, Midpeninsula Open Space Issuances in September

California government agencies are continuing to expand their green bond issuances.   Two recent bonds pushed the California green muni bond total to over $1.6 billion (see chart below).

The Port of Los Angeles issued $35.2 million in green bonds as part of a larger debt refinancing successfully completed recently. The move marks the first time a U.S. port has entered the growing sustainability bond market where investors support projects and companies making positive social and environmental change.

 The Port’s green bonds underwent an independent review to ensure the transaction conforms to international social and sustainability principles. Sustainalytics, a global leader in sustainability research and analysis whose clients include Apple Inc. and Starbucks Corp., performed the third-party evaluation. The firm validated the integrity of the Port’s green bonds for three projects completed in recent years:
  • The Wilmington Waterfront Park: a 30-acre green space with walkways, bike paths and a children’s playground that also serves to buffer the community from Port traffic.
  • The Port of Los Angeles Police Headquarters: The structure’s environmental and energy-efficient features earned gold-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
  • The Cabrillo Shallow Water Habitat: a 190-acre feeding area for fish and marine birds.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (Midpen) issued $54,490,000 in tax-exempt and $2,920,000 in taxable green bonds.  Midpen operates in the Silicon Valley region.  The new green bonds will refinance debt original used to acquire an 7,366 acres of open space within the District in the following preserves: Bear Creek Redwoods, El Corte de Madera Creek, El Sereno, Long Ridge, Miramontes Ridge, Monte Bello, Pulgas Ridge, Purisima Creek Redwoods, Russian Ridge, Saratoga Gap, Sierra Azul, Skyline Ridge, Tunitas Creek, Thornewood, and Windy Hill.

“We felt the ‘green’ designation perfectly reflects our mission to acquire, preserve and protect a greenbelt of open space, and to specifically target the growing sustainable and socially responsible investing movement,” said Stefan Jaskulak, Midpen Financial Officer. 

Midpen reports that the financing was well received in the market, generating orders of up to $150 million from both retail and institutional buyers nationwide. In a first, Midpen tapped into the local retail market, selling nearly $8 million to residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, individual investors who may already be familiar with the district’s operations and work. 

“It was wonderful to see so many local residents directly investing in Midpen, many of who are constituents and active users of our open spaces,” said Yoriko Kishimoto, Midpen Board President. 

On August 18, 2016, the district received AAA credit ratings from both Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s, the highest ratings available for financial performance. 

“This was a very exciting and successful effort for Midpen,” said Steve Abbors, Midpen General Manager, “We’re saving the public $15.7 million in future payments, paying bonds off three years early, and giving local residents a ‘green’ way to invest in their open space.”

California Green Muni Bond Issuances
General Purposes
State of California
Mass Transit, Clean Water, Energy Efficiency
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
Renewable Energy
City of Los Angeles
Wastewater, Digester, Water Purification
East Bay Municipal Utility District
Clean Drinking Water, Conservation, Flood Protection, Renewable Energy, Biodiversity
City of Los Angeles
Wastewater, Water Purification, Digester
San Diego Unified School District
Energy Efficient Buildings, Renewable Energy
Clean Water, Water Pollution Control
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
Clean water, wastewater
San Diego County Water Authority
Water Efficiency
Midpeninsula Open Space District
Open Space Acquisition, related
Port of Los Angeles
Open space, habitat, green building
(prepared by Michael Paparian 9/19/16)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

First Water "Climate Certified" Green Bond Issued by San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

$240 Million Green Bond to Finance Stormwater and Wastewater Management Projects; California Green Muni Bonds Now Total Over $1.4 Billion

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is the first entity in the world to issue a green bond certified under the new Water Climate Bonds Standard.  The standard specifies the criteria that must be met for a bond to be labelled “green” when earmarked for funding water-related, low carbon initiatives.

Proceeds from the $240 million Wastewater Revenue Bond will fund eligible projects in sustainable stormwater management and wastewater projects.

“Climate Bonds Certification for this wastewater bond, a U.S. and global first, is an important evolutionary step for green infrastructure financing," said Harlan Kelly Jr General Manager SFPUC. “Our City’s sewer system was built to last a hundred years; it’s only fitting that we use the latest, most innovative financing techniques to ensure our infrastructure can overcome future environmental challenges while meeting the needs of our community for the next 100 years.”

Certified Water Climate Bond Vote of Confidence

“Having a prominent public authority like SFPUC issue the first bond certified against the Water Climate Bonds Standard is a tremendous vote of confidence. It’s a public demonstration that the Standard provides verifiable, science-based criteria for evaluating water-related bonds that are relevant and applicable for the international bond market,” said Sean Kidney, CEO of the Climate Bonds Initiative.  “SFPUC is leading by example with this certified bond issuance; they open a path for other public authorities to issue certified climate bonds for water projects.”

Sean Kidney, Climate Bonds Iniatiative

Treasurer Chiang: SFPUC Bonds Help Meet Market Need

California State Treasurer John Chiang has been showing leadership in the growing green bonds market.  His office purchased $200 million in green bonds recently (see CalGreenFinance story here) and he is looking to do more to boost the market.  He also sits on the Climate Bonds Standards Advisory Board, which oversees standards such as the Water Bond Standard used for the SFPUC bond certification.

State Treasurer John Chiang seeks to
"grow the green bond market" in U.S.

"I am working to grow the green bond market in California and the United States," said Treasurer Chiang.  "There is great demand for environmentally related securities. Unfortunately, the supply remains tight, limiting our ability to finance critical projects for combatting climate change. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission waste water green bonds, which have been certified as meeting the 'Climate Bonds Standard,' are a step toward meeting this market need.” 

Sustainalytics Provided Certification to International Standards

International research and analysis firm Sustainalytics provided third-party verification that the SFPUC bond conforms with the Climate Bonds Standard.  According to the Sustainalytics report on the bond, "SFPUC’s approach to selecting projects and managing green bond proceeds is robust, and its reporting on the use of proceeds, with (key performance indicators) that capture energy and water impacts, is transparent ... and credible." (a copy of the Sustainalytics report is available here). 

Sustanalytics Analysis says
SFPUC Green Bond is "robust and credible"

CERES: Historic Step To Advance Water Infrastructure Financing

"San Francisco’s leadership in issuing the first certified green water bond is a historic step in advancing this nascent but important market to finance sustainable water infrastructure,” said Mindy Lubber, president of the nonprofit group Ceres, who collaborated with Climate Bonds Initiative and others to develop the standard. “Water infrastructure is vastly underfunded and it’s especially so with sustainable water infrastructure, which is critical for helping us adapt to the extremes of climate change. Enacting this standard will be extremely helpful in catalyzing credible growth in this hugely important market.”

Mindy Luber of Ceres calls SFPUC bond "historic step"

“We see green bonds as a fantastic way to seek performance and impact for our clients in one package, and standards on certification and reporting are essential. The SFPUC’s issuance of a certified green bond is a big step forward—we strongly believe that bonds like this will spur credible growth in this important market and boost investor confidence that green bonds are producing positive and meaningful environmental impact,” said Amy Hauter, ESG Research Analyst at Brown Advisory.

Water Bonds a Subset of Green Bonds

Water bonds are a subset of “green bonds,” a fast-growing financial instrument for earmarking private financing to fund environmental projects. The green bond market has grown rapidly since the first issuance less than ten years ago, reaching $41.8 billion globally in 2015.  So far in 2016, over $23 billion in labelled green bonds have been issued.  California is becoming a leader in both municipal and corporate green bond issuance.  Apple issued a $1.5 billion corporate green bond earlier this year.  Over the past few years, there has been over $1.4 billion in government green bond issuances.

The Water Climate Bonds Criteria were created to provide investors with verifiable, science-based metrics for evaluating bonds earmarked for financing sustainable water infrastructure projects. The Criteria will also help corporate, municipal and other bond issuers expand their green bond offerings into water-related projects. These criteria can be used to evaluate projects as diverse as energy or industrial water efficiency, reuse, catchment or watershed restoration and or large-scale water supply infrastructure development.

SFPUC Bond Boosts California Green Muni Bond Issuances

With the SFPUC bond described above, California government agencies have now issued over $1.4 billion in labelled green bonds.  The chart below summarizes the issuances to date.

California Green Muni Bond Issuances
IssuerDateAmountGeneral Purposes
State of California10/7/2014$300,000,000Mass Transit, Clean Water, Energy Efficiency
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission5/20/2015$32,025,000Renewable Energy
City of Los Angeles6/4/2015$188,755,000Wastewater, Digester, Water Purification
East Bay Municipal Utility District6/17/2015$74,335,000Clean Drinking Water, Conservation, Flood Protection, Renewable Energy, Biodiversity
City of Los Angeles6/30/2015$100,835,000Wastewater, Water Purification, Digester
San Diego Unified School District1/5/2016$100,000,000Energy Efficient Buildings, Renewable Energy
IBank4/28/2016$410,735,000Clean Water, Water Pollution Control
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission5/10/2016$240,000,000Clean water, wastewater
Total$1,446,685,000(prepared by Michael Paparian 5/18/16)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Treasurer Chiang: $200 million Green Bond Purchase; Upcoming Green Bond Actions

California Treasurer John Chiang has announced the purchase of another $200 million in World Bank green bonds.  The bonds will be part of the state Pooled Money Investment Account  (PMIA) which invests idle state funds.

California was the lead purchaser of the $280 million bond issue.  Calvert Investments also participated.  The bonds will mature in October, 2018 and pay over 1% interest.  Comparable U.S. Treasury notes are paying just over .8% for a similar maturity date.

“This is a win-win for Californians who are not only interested in safe, solid-performing investments, but want to move the needle on combatting climate change,” said California State Treasurer John Chiang. “My office is excited about participating in the burgeoning green bond market, but we want to do it right. We want to raise money to combat climate change at the same time we get the best possible deal for our taxpayers.”

Treasurer Chiang spoke about green bonds at the United Nations in January

“World Bank green bonds help mobilize capital for projects that offer climate solutions. We welcome the continued support for the World Bank and the green bond market in general from key investors such as the California State Treasurer’s Office and Calvert Investments who recognize the value of investing for the future through bonds issued by the World Bank,” said Arunma Oteh, Vice President and Treasurer at the World Bank.

PMIA has been an early and regular purchaser of World Bank green bonds.  Purchases to date now total $1.3 billion.

Treasurer Chiang Plans More Green Bond Actions

Treasurer Chiang recently completed a green bond "listening tour" and heard about green bond opportunities and obstacles from a variety of market participants. 

According to a news release from Treasurer Chiang's office, his staff is drafting a report to identify the legal, economic, attitudinal and other barriers that have prevented the U.S. green bond market from developing as fast as those in Europe, Latin America and Asia. The report’s findings and related issues are expected to be the focus of a conference Chiang plans to hold early next year that will bring together investors, environmentalists and other thought leaders.  (See also prior CalGreenFinance post here)

More on the World Bank Green Bond issuance here.

Treasurer Chiang news release here.

Friday, April 15, 2016

California Becoming a Green Bond Hub

California is becoming a hub of green bond action.

Apple Computer recently issued a $1.5 billion green bond for their facilities and related activities, California PACE related programs continue to issue green bonds for energy efficiency and renewable projects, and the first U.S. bond certified to the upcoming Climate Bond Water Standard will likely be issued in California before summer.

California Treasurer John Chiang, a member of the Climate Bonds Standards Advisory Board, has been looking into ways to further boost the green bond market (see CalGreenFinance post here).

California government agencies have issued nearly $800 million in green bonds since late 2014, as summarized below.

California Green Muni Bond Issuances
IssuerDateAmountGeneral Purposes
State of California10/7/2014$300,000,000Mass Transit, Clean Water, Energy Efficiency
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission5/20/2015$32,025,000Renewable Energy
City of Los Angeles6/4/2015$188,755,000Wastewater, Digester, Water Purification
East Bay Municipal Utility District6/17/2015$74,335,000Clean Drinking Water, Conservation, Flood Protection, Renewable Energy, Biodiversity
City of Los Angeles6/30/2015$100,835,000Wastewater, Water Purification, Digester
San Diego Unified School District1/5/2016$100,000,000Energy Efficient Buildings, Renewable Energy

Green bond proponents are hoping the market will grow from the $42 billion in issuances worldwide in 2015 to $100 billion in 2016.  California issuers are contributing to the new totals.  About $2 billion in green bonds have been issued in the state since the beginning of 2016.  Another $500 million issue is expected soon from the IBank (see story here) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will be issuing a green bond in the next month or so. 

Green Bonds are among the many tools California is using to demonstrate climate solution leadership.