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Going Green Through Crowdfunding With Will Wiseman

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Most green energy projects, no matter how admirable they could be, are often impeded by a lack of funding and government leverage. Thankfully, there is one efficient way to support them using your own money: crowdfunding. Corinna Bellizzi is joined by Will Wiseman, who is making this process much easier and accessible for everyone through Climatize. Will shares how they help renewable energy developments grow and prosper, especially those small-scale and community-based ones, by giving people the power to pick specific projects to put their money into. He also talks about their transparency approach that allows Climatize users to see (or even personally visit) the tangible outputs of their money.

 

About Will Wiseman

Care More Be Better | Will Wiseman | CrowdfundingWill has spent the past 10 years in renewable energy during which time he has played every role in the solar industry across finance, project management & construction where he built 15 solar arrays. As CEO & Co-Founder of Climatize Will has financed over $2 million of community solar projects. He holds a MSc in Renewable Energy Engineering from KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology. Will is a Santa Cruz native & resident who enjoys spending as much time as possible in our mountains & ocean.

 

Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/climatize-earth/

Guest Website: https://www.climatize.earth/

Guest Social:

https://www.instagram.com/climatize.earth/

https://www.facebook.com/climatize.earth

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuSeK0a8ilhHLfw6qGiQKBQ

https://tiktok.com/@climatize.earth

Additional Resources Mentioned: apps.apple.com/us/app/climatize/id1625951422

 

Show Notes: – FINAL Audio

00:00 – Introduction

02:58 – Building Climatize

09:08 – Climatize app

12:57 – Making positive choices

17:08 – Climatize projects

22:12 – Power of crowfunding

27:14 – Big banks vs community banks

30:07 – Becoming an active stakeholder

30:56 – Closing Words

 

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Going Green Through Crowdfunding With Will Wiseman

In this episode, we’re going to go on a journey once more into the world of climate optimism as we embrace possibility and the impact we can all make with Will Wiseman. Will has spent years in renewable energy, during which time he has played every role in the solar industry across finance, project management and construction, where he built fifteen solar arrays.

As CEO and Cofounder of Climatize, Will has financed over $2 million of community solar projects. He holds a Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering from KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology. Will is a Santa Cruz native in my neck of the woods and a resident who enjoys spending as much time as possible in our mountains and at our oceans.

Just like when I host health-related shows and conversations, there’s a disclaimer that I simply have to give as I get started. The information provided in this show is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as investment advice. The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the individuals involved and do not represent any financial institution or professional advice. It is important to conduct your own research before making any investment decisions. Remember, investments always invoke risks, and past performance does not necessarily indicate future results. With that we’ll get right to it. Will Wiseman, welcome to the show.

Corinna, thank you so much for having me. I’ve been looking forward to recording this conversation and what better platform than to come and speak to your audience if people all looking to make the world a better place?

Yeah, we try and that’s the goal here. I like to start interviews with people like you who are working to make such a significant difference through their work life, to get a feel for what brought you to this moment, what helped you to build Climatize. I understand this isn’t the first would-be iteration, so please share.

My journey into climate started at a very young age. I had a unique upbringing in that my father is a marine biologist. Through that, I was very lucky to be able to go and explore many of these very pristine natural ecosystems. Over the course of my life, I saw the very rapid degradation of those ecosystems. That was what ultimately inspired me to consider climate as a career.

I actually left a job at a particle physics lab here at UCSC to start solar panels on roofs in high school. That helped me pay my way through college. Fast forward many years later. I had worked in energy markets internationally and large-scale electrical project management in the solar construction world, and I didn’t feel like that was necessarily the impact that I wanted to have throughout my career.

That was when I went back to go get my graduate degrees and did that internationally. While I was completing those Master’s degrees, I started working with my cofounder and she and I joined the global climate strikes back in 2019. We saw 100,000 people protesting in the streets for climate action. It was this striking turnout of hope and motivation and there were so many people that wanted to see the world do better. Yet it struck us that we were all going to go home and the next day nothing was going to be different. If you got 100,000 people together and their best option was to make a cardboard sign, that was a glaring problem. That was when we began this journey on Climatize and seeing how we can enable the everyday person to be an active stakeholder in the energy transition.

[bctt tweet=”If you have hundreds of thousands of people together whose best option in creating a better world is to make cardboard signs, it is a glaring social problem.” via=”no”]

As we interviewed over 250 people, we came to our core thesis, which is that many people feel like climate change is an urgent problem, but they feel powerless to make a difference. That’s where Climatize comes in to help people put their dollars to work, investing directly into clean energy projects in their community. Through that, you can earn a competitive return on investment but see a tangible outcome and pull out, remove much of the fog that happens in environmentally-related financial products or carbon credits and give you a way to see A to B where your money goes.

Often, the projects that are then being funded through Climatize, we’ve found from my experience as a renewable energy developer, that despite the beneficial impacts to communities, these small to medium-scale projects struggle to attract funding. That’s because the big Wall Street banks want to go chase those big $100 million projects than the smaller projects. They’re maybe larger than what community lenders are willing to do. Additionally, they may not understand either the technology or economics behind those projects. Climatize is an easy and transparent way for you to invest in renewable energy projects across the US and earn up to 10% per year with as little as $10 to start.

Moving this into the world of being able to microfinance it in a way, crowdfund it from the community, enables you to access different revenue streams than you otherwise might. Typically, a lot of the businesses are trying to build in your arena are looking for investors with significant funds to put multimillions of dollars into the pockets of those do-gooders to get started, so to speak. What makes us so different and how does it enable you to get to work now or does it enable you to more adequately get to work now to fund these projects?

Part of the big difference of what we’re building is in traditional public equities where you might invest in an ESG fund or an ETF that maybe specializes in climate-focused companies, with that, at best, you’re putting your money in the equity of those companies. That may help them scale, but you never know what the impact of that money is.

Through Climatize, you are actually picking specific projects in a community. For example, there was a project that was solar on a Shakespeare theater in New Jersey. With that, there’s a tangible, specific project that is raising that capital. On Climatized, there have been two models. One in which they’re actually raising the construction financing for the projects and then that’s actually helping bring that project to life. There’s a second set where, essentially, it’s an operating project and the renewable energy project developer is actually using that asset as collateral and the contracted cashflows of that solar project to pay the interest. They’re using that to raise debt funding so they can go build other projects.

I think we lost the attention span of perhaps half of our audience. Am I talking too much about FinTech? I want to keep this top-line so my audience can stay with us through this conversation. I’m not saying I’m sure that there are CFOs reading that absorbed every single bit of that, but for everyone else who perhaps didn’t enjoy the finance classes in business school, I would like to help the audience understand how this enables them to make an impact and how easy it could be.

One of the conversations we had earlier on in this show was an interview with Zach Stein of the Carbon Collective. I understand you know each other so you can hobnob about that later, but he helped us understand that we could change the way we 401(k). These 401(k)s can be built around funding projects and investments that are greener instead of going to mutual funds led by Chase Bank who puts more dollars into fossil fuel than any other lending institution at the present time. I’m hoping you can help give us more of that top line because I understand, I think there’s even an app that helps people to do this work and check out what their options might be if they’re interested in funding a project like this.

With Climatize, you can go and download the app. We’re currently on iOS and we’ll be launching on the Android platforms. From there, you can sign up an account, make your account in a matter of five minutes, and after that, it takes about 30 seconds to invest into a renewable energy project in your community. You can see the story of the families and businesses raising this money to put the system on their roof. You can see the tangible output of your money and get updates as that project is built and feel that connection that you’re actually being an active stakeholder and playing a real role in the energy transition, helping communities decarbonize, creating local jobs.

From the perspective of someone who may have some exposure to, let’s say, E-Trade or another platform like that, is it as simple to buy and sell as you might on one of those platforms? I apologize for not having the opportunity to check out the app as I am an Android girl.

It’s simple to set up an account. With these, these are not liquid investments. You are waiting until the construction is completed and then the developer will be able to pay you back or in the other set, you’re going to have to hold that to term. Currently, it’s structured a little bit more like a CD or a bond rather than say a stock where you could buy and sell it.

You’d be holding onto it for the term of the project essentially, which could be a couple of years or something along those lines.

Yes, exactly. Two to five years currently.

As we deepen our understanding here, I would like to help people get why this is so innovative. How do we get them to grab hold of that, understand why they might want to check it out, and ultimately help them feel like they are empowered to push for that change in their local communities, too?

There was a lot of public conversation about pros and cons and there’s probably a whole conversation to be had around that. Part of the innovation of Climatize is being able to see the final output of your money. You can put it directly to building projects that help decarbonize the energy system. You can see the family, and that’s ultimately the project going to be on their roof. If you want to, you can even go drive and see the final product of your money. That is so different from any other investment option that you currently have when it comes to sustainability.

Care More Be Better | Will Wiseman | Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding: If you want, you can drive and see the final product of your money sent through Climatize. This is so different than any other investment option when it comes to sustainability.

 

I think about this from the perspective of let’s say we have an initiative on a ballot and it’s for a sales tax and we want to see a park get redone or something to that effect. Often, we vote for that thing and whether or not we have a say in it, we don’t necessarily see the impact of it sometimes for years longer than we thought we would. We don’t have a way to access that or to see what is accountably happening.

It sounds like your platform corrects for that and you’ve got this shorter term, because 2 to 5 years to me doesn’t sound all that long if you’re talking about money that would otherwise be sitting in a savings account or a CD. I think that’s great. How do we ultimately work together to change our individual behavior to promote more of these climate-positive choices that FinTech impacts?

To your point, if you have idling cash sitting somewhere with an institution you don’t necessarily agree with what they are putting that money to, this can serve as a great alternative. We have heard that in terms of people taking their money out of Vanguard or TIAA and reallocating it towards projects that align with what they want to put their money into.

[bctt tweet=”If you have cash sitting somewhere with an institution you don’t necessarily agree with, supporting the crowdfunding of a green energy project is a great alternative.” via=”no”]

The thing about funding these projects is they have a very outsized impact in terms of climate because they are decarbonizing the electricity system. That matters because as we’re seeing more EVs come into the picture, that means greater electricity demand. If that doesn’t come from renewables, it’s going to come from gas. Targeting that, first and foremost, unlocks a lot of other innovations and a lot of other decarbonization.

In our local area here in California, I’m probably part of the same electricity fund that you are where PG&E is giving you the line to your house. We’re working through green energy here. It’s interesting to see that I heard something from PG&E when we were having a lot of brownouts or unplanned blackouts, let’s put it that way. They’d say things like during heat waves, “We have enough electricity to electrify your air conditioning or your EVs, but perhaps not both, at least at the height of usage.”

During the pandemic, when we had a heat wave as an example, a lot of people weren’t driving, so they weren’t taking their car to work and plugging in at work. They were plugging in at home and it might be plugged in during the day and then suddenly the grid is overloaded and we have a blackout for five hours. This is something that needs to be addressed from an infrastructure perspective.

It’s also important to note that there’s quite a bit of government funding behind these projects at this particular time. I think the projects, in some ways, have less risk because the funding is more sure for at least a bulk of the projects that are ticking off. We’re not giving financial advice, but this is perhaps less risky than some others. If you were to go and say, “I want to use my money to fund green projects and I’m going to go find specific companies,” do the research and put a little bit of money into those things, you may or may not see them come through the same way. I don’t know. I’m curious what your thoughts are along those lines.

You bring up a great point, which is partly why the Inflation Reduction Act is so pivotal to renewable energy development. Previously, these incentives for renewable energy projects were extended every three years, but they were at a phase of ramping down and no one knew what would happen. The Inflation Reduction Act created ten years of certainty on those credits. That’s huge. That gives all of us looking at how we get more of these projects built and interconnected and funded a lot more certainty as to where that funding can come from.

Additionally, there were more incentives if you’re using US manufactured equipment, if you’re using prevailing wages, so using unionized labor, if it’s benefiting low-income communities or tribal communities, communities that are impacted by the energy transition like coal country, all of those can be additional credits from the federal government to those projects, up to 70% of that system value.

With that, it makes these projects that much more profitable and bankable. That’s a big deal. As we talk about tax credits, that’s very in the weeds, but from a high level, the government has leaned in to say, “We want to supercharge the deployment of this infrastructure and now getting into this asset class is that much more attractive because of those credits and uncertainty.”

Care More Be Better | Will Wiseman | Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding: From a high level, the government has leaned in and started to supercharge the deployment of green energy infrastructure.

 

Given that, what have you been able to achieve so far with Climatize specifically?

We got our regulatory membership in the financial industry regulatory authority, registered with the SEC in April of 2023. We launched a platform in May and have already seen over $2 million invested in our platform, and that’s helped us fund five solar projects for family-owned businesses across the country. The sixth one raised over $80,000 in three days. We’ve launched a new project for a family-owned farm.

Some of these are backed by federal grants; others are those operating projects that I mentioned. We’re seeing very localized projects that have real tangible community impact, which has been exciting and validating for us. As a member of the younger generation, I feel a responsibility to attack this problem and help us find a more sustainable future because inaction is not an option.

I’m curious how you vet the projects that you choose to fund. What specifically are you looking at and what projects get greenlighted if a few qualities make them come through?

This is where my background as a renewable energy engineer comes in. We have a proprietary due diligence process that we created with the Department of Energy in their national community solar partnership. We’re looking at the developer’s track record, how many projects they have successfully built, and how many utilities they have. We’re going to be looking at operations and maintenance contracts, are they picking good equipment suppliers, what’s the quality of that power off-taker? Do they have good credit or a pool of off-takers? What’s the creditworthiness there?

We’re going to be looking at what their execution plan for this specific project is. If it’s construction or if it’s already built, how much power is it generating? From that, how much cashflow is it generating? We’re going to be looking at do they have all the right environmental studies, permits in place, roof leases, things like that. We have a checklist that we run through. From there, we generally green light about 60% of the projects that have come to us. In particular, the ones that have these federal grants are easier for us to get onto the platform because they’ve already had third-party due diligence and CPA audits of the financials, making it a lot easier for us.

They’ve essentially done a lot of the heavy lifting for you in that case.

At that point, the grant by the federal government is also what the investor is investing against rather than the project performance.

Is there a particular project that you have presently funded that you find particularly exciting? I think it would help to make this real for the audience.

Yeah. There’s one that I found particularly touching and it was a family-owned hardware store built in the rural South in Tennessee. The building was built in 1849. It was originally servicing horses and carriages.

You could probably even have the streets or a certain width for that and everything.

They had gotten the roof renovated. That was all done. John and Angela had owned their business since 1948 and they were then this long-term family-owned business for multiple generations and they had received one of these federal grants. Through that, the project was funded in 21 days. It’s a great feel-good story, interview with the families. That project is already in construction, already building that project shortly afterwards and it closed the day after Christmas. It’s exciting to see that when these developers are funded, they can move very quickly towards actually going and building these projects. Once it comes to life and we can actually see the project, i’ll have to check in with you again and maybe share some of the images.

I’m curious to know if that was also a historic site and if they had different permitting issues as a result. You’re talking about something from the 1840s and often here, we run into that issue. It’s a historic site, so therefore you can’t do certain things on the property. I think getting them ready for solar on the roof might be a little bit more challenging in those cases. Who knows? Regulations change.

My cofounder is the one who worked the most closely with the project developers on that one. I don’t know the specifics of the historical site permits and whatnot, but I do know that they had at least gotten the roof redone before getting the solar system.

What do they say? When I had solar installed on my house, they had to determine that the roof could last for 25 years. I have had friends who had historic buildings and everything down to the paint color had to be approved because it was considered a historic site and they didn’t want to use colors of paint that weren’t available. Pretty restrictive.

I know we’ve talked a bit about this, but I’m hoping to make it real for people, too. Perhaps you could share an example of how crowdfunding increases accessibility for both the investment opportunity and the project sponsors themselves. How much more quickly does capital flow in? Do you have some statistics?

Yeah. With the projects themselves, while we can move very fast on them, there was a very underbanked sector of projects that were not getting funded. That’s where we can play a very meaningful role. This is not because they were poor deals, but rather that it was of a size and scale that was not interesting to the Wall Street banks that want to cut that $100 million check.

These were projects that were perfectly bankable but overlooked. If you go and talk to the developers, they’ll say, “I have this $500,000 deal, but no community bank is going to come in and touch this because they don’t understand solar economics.” That’s fine. That’s an opportunity for Climatize to come in and bring this bottoms-up climate movement to help support projects in the community that the traditional financial channels would otherwise overlook.

Honestly, part of the impetus of this is to step around those gatekeepers that, in many ways, it feels like there’s been a failure of top-down action because we’re still, to your point, seeing Chase fund these major fossil fuel projects. Despite the commitments at the government level, we’re not seeing it to the degree and extent that we need to hit these scientific targets.

That’s what Climatize is here to do. It’s to help us say, “We want to take this upon ourselves to fund these projects and we can see the benefits not only from the energy projects but from the financial yield of those projects as well.” It’s helping drive in particular community solar, which has been the sub-sector of solar that we’ve been focusing on. It’s not so much that we’re deploying capital faster than banks, even though many times we are. It’s that we’re serving an underbanked sector of clean energy projects that might not exist without us.

What do they say? Money flows where energy goes and perhaps the reverse of that, too. Energy flows where money goes. We need to create those flows of cash into these projects so that they can get the funding they need to grow. It takes money to do any of these things at this juncture. I’m waiting for the time in which we make the big investment, let’s say, in the state of California and elsewhere where we have these wind-related fires ticking hold to move all of our energy lines underground so that we have less fires. I know that there’s a big movement for that now in Hawaii and in California and it’s something in particular I would like to see funded as quickly as possible. I wonder if you have any knowledge or awareness of projects to do that in our home state of California.

In terms of undergrounding lines, that’s on the utilities themselves to take upon because they’re the ones that ultimately own and operate the great infrastructure. Unfortunately, that won’t be a private markets project we could ever get involved with. It’s a good measure to take. It’s definitely very expensive, but I think that applied in the right places, it can make a big difference.

Here in Santa Cruz, my family, in 2018 and in 2020, the CZU fire and then the subsequent one, Cal Fire built the fire line in our backyard. It’s very personal because we often think of climate change impacting when faraway countries in 2050 and the reality is it’s here and it’s now and we need to be reacting at that same degree of urgency.

Your community, in particular, was impacted by both and also flooding. It’s like we’re seeing both sides of that coin. I’m on a hill in Scotts Valley, we got so much rain at once with these atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones hitting Capitola that people are flooding where they didn’t before and it’s more severe. We need something faster often than seems to be feasible with these large utility-driven projects. I don’t know if the solution’s in sight, so I was curious if there was some impact we could have because I have no trust in PG&E any longer.

It’s a big part of why we started Climatized. We believe that whether you have $10,000 or $10 to invest, there is a place for that money and that it can go to building projects that do directly drive decarbonization.

Care More Be Better | Will Wiseman | Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding: Climatize believes that whether have $10 or $10,000 to invest, there is always a place for that money to build projects that directly drive ecolization.

 

I have another somewhat unrelated question, but because you are in the financial technology space, I thought I’d ask it. I mentioned a little earlier that Chase Bank, for example, invests a lot in fossil fuel projects. All of the big banks essentially do. They’ve diversified their interests and most of US bank with the big banks. I wondered if you had any thoughts on whether people should consider local credit unions or banks and if they generally speak greener. Are there better places to put and hold your money than the large three that are funding so many climate-destructive projects, let’s call them?

I would say that that’s hard to say from a community bank level. Very hard to know what they are ever banking and oftentimes, they’re going to be more local commercial clients. There are climate-first banks that have leaned in that all of their deposits go to financing renewable energy projects. There’s maybe ATMOS, Amalgamated Bank, Beneficial State Bank, to name a couple that I know of off the top of my head. Those are places where your deposits will be going specifically to causes that may align more closely with climate action or community impact.

Thank you for that. I know it was somewhat off-topic, but as we look at FinTech, I think we also need to think about how we store and use our money. I even had a conversation with a local bank, Bay Federal, which is a credit union in the Santa Cruz area, and asked them questions about their business practices. If I moved my money there, what would it look like and how does it impact our community?

Even in that case, it impacts our community because they actually have many more local employees beyond somebody at a branch office. They’re more mindful of their money going to different projects that are also locally funded. I think taking a step and asking these questions as you consider who you bank with is another step in a positive direction. It’s an impact that we can each have because you got to have access to your funds and you probably have direct deposit. Choose a bank that can make more of an impact. The days that your money rests in their account, it’s going to be doing more good passively while you’re going about your day.

Money is a very high leverage point when it comes to impact, whether it’s investing or banking. Both buckets are very high impact.

[bctt tweet=”Money is a high leverage point when it comes to impact, be it through investing or banking.” via=”no”]

You think about it, the bank invests your money while they have it. Even if they have it for a matter of days, it’s like essentially they day trade, too. They’re making an impact with it on the daily. At this stage in our conversation, I like to ask all of my guests to think about the closing takeaways that they’d like for our audience. If there’s a question that I haven’t already asked that perhaps you wish I had, you could ask and answer it as part of that. I’ll leave the floor for you.

I guess a good question at a very high level is why does this matter? Why does Climatize matter to me and in my life? I think the answer for me has been, if you’re frustrated with the status quo of seeing how things are progressing and don’t feel like they’re moving at the rate that you want them to see or that you want to see, this is a great way for you to become an active stakeholder and drive this action at a very local transparent level. You will see the impact of your money, specifically in climate projects and something that has a very tangible outcome with a human impact. If that’s what you’re looking to play your hand in, I encourage you to go and take a look at Climatize and see if it aligns with what you’re looking to achieve.

I have something else to add to this because I think that what you’re doing and how you’re doing it epitomizes a mantra that I like to keep in my daily purview, which is to simply think globally and act locally. I want to see money going in the right direction globally to impact climate change and actually reduce global warming and still global cooling. Draw down carbon.

From a local perspective, if I can invest resources that I might otherwise put into another project, that’s equally risky, and instead, I can see the impact on my local environment and, in my local community and in jobs in my backyard. Also, the fiscal responsibility of this area and the taxes that go into our school system and everything else, I can feel better about my day-to-day.

To your earlier point, being able to even drive over and visit one of these construction projects to see what progress has been made is something that has a greater impact. I like what you’ve put together. I think it’s a very creative use of current technology in FinTech and something as simple as an app to reach more people. I have to say, as an Android user, I am very grateful that you’re coming out with that app.

We’d love to have you as a beta tester.

I’m happy to beta test. If you want to give me early approval, let me know. Thank you so much for joining me in this discussion. I appreciate your time and the work that you and your cofounder are doing. I know going from marching in the streets to making this shift and change to get people to think about FinTech differently is a big shift. I think you can have equally impactful results from this, if not more, so thank you so much for your work.

Thank you so much, Corinna. It’s been a pleasure.

I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the impact that each of us can have with the dollars we have and the dollars we save. If we can think more mindfully about who we bank with and invest with, then the work we do every day will have a greater impact. If you enjoyed this episode, I hope that you’ll subscribe wherever you’re picking this up. Leave us a review or a five-star rating, and give us a thumbs up or a comment. All of those actions help more people to discover this show.

I want to thank each of you for sticking with us through this episode. Thank you for being a part of this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more. We can be better. We can even stop using yesterday’s energy, build green solutions for all people and all industries and bring about the global cooling that we also desperately need. Thank you.

 

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