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Santa Rosa firm oversees $650M green retrofit program

  • Ygrene Energy Fund CEO Dennis Hunter, foreground, with his team; (clockwise from bottom left) marketing director Kelly van Zutphen, manager of administration and finance Laura Choi, director of software development Aaron Strachan, analyst Danny Mangan, strategist Ben van Zutphen, director of corporate development Bart van Voorhis, and director of business development Michael Lemyre.

A small Santa Rosa company has stepped onto the national stage with a new way of paying for potentially billions of dollars worth of green building upgrades.

The little-known company, Ygrene Energy Fund, last week announced alliances with British investment bank Barclays Capital, U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin and German reinsurance giant Hannover Re. It is marketing its loan program to cities and counties across the United States.

The company's leaders include Dennis Hunter, who has made millions in local real estate, banking and waste collection, and former Sonoma County auditor-controller-tax collector Rod Dole, who helped create a similar green building program for the county.

Ygrene has received the backing of British billionaire Richard Branson's Carbon War Room, an environmental group working on climate change and energy issues. Last week, the nonprofit announced it had formed a consortium led by Ygrene to fund construction work that would cut energy consumption in homes and businesses across the United States.

Ygrene has won exclusive contracts to market retrofits in a half-dozen communities in the Miami area and expects to finalize a contract with Sacramento next week. Together, it expects to fund $650 million in projects in Florida and Sacramento.

In an interview, Hunter said a key challenge in addressing climate change involves finding the money for large-scale construction upgrades that can reduce "gigatons" of carbon emissions. To draw that kind of money, investors must be able make money, he said.

"If there's profit in it," Hunter said, "it will attract capital."

Boosters suggest the efforts of Ygrene and similar companies one day could spur the largest private investment in energy efficiency in U.S. history and create thousands of jobs in the struggling construction industry.

"Richard Branson believes this is a trillion dollar opportunity," said Murat Armbruster, a senior advisor to the War Room and director of the Green Capital Global Challenge in San Francisco.

Of Ygrene's leaders, Armbruster said, "these guys really do have their act together, and what they're talking about could be game changing."

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