A Springfield businessman was one of three recent appointees to the state’s Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority, which has assisted in issuing over $5.9 billion in bonds, loans and grants since its start in 1972.
Gov. Mike Parson appointed Sun Solar LLC founder and CEO Caleb Arthur to the board on June 3.
“One of the biggest things the governor has talked about is how do we address our aging infrastructure needs,” Arthur said. “They look at this board as a way to address these community needs throughout the state.”
The EIERA, through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, provides financial support and low-interest loans to municipalities updating aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. They also issue private activity bonds to finance pollution control, for investor-owned utilities and provide grants for businesses developing products from recycled materials, as well as brownfields cleanups.
“Making our environment cleaner is a large problem that there are definitely solutions to,” Arthur said, adding small changes equate to big results. “Every pipe in the ground has to have pumps pumping water, sewer. How old are those pumps? Newer pumps are going to use half as much electricity and then you have to burn half as less fossil fuels. It’s all about the full picture.”
Arthur was appointed to the authority along with Mary Nichols, president of the Women’s Political Caucus of Greater St. Louis Area Chapter, and Nancy Gibler, director of business development for the Central Electric Power Cooperative in Jefferson City. Joe Boland, deputy director for the EIERA, said the five-seat board lost its quorum in December 2018 after the resignation of LaRee DeFreece, a fellow for the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability. Two current members, retired Springfield attorney Andy Dalton and Kansas City businessman and former NFL player Deron Cherry, remain on the board.
Focus on environment
The EIERA was created by the Missouri General Assembly nearly 50 years ago to address the state’s environmental needs.
“Our overall mission is really pollution prevention and the conservation of air, land and water resources,” Boland said. “Our biggest involvement is with the Department of Natural Resources. We partner with them for the State Revolving Fund program, that’s the water and wastewater loan program. We issue bonds to help capitalize with that program.”
Since the State Revolving Fund was established in 1989, Boland said the agencies have provided $2.67 billion in loans, including $32.5 million to the city of Springfield.
“We had received an SRF loan for some upgrades for the wastewater treatment plant and stormwater improvements,” said Errin Kemper, the city’s Environmental Services director, noting city officials will be evaluating whether to secure additional capital for further improvements. “SRF funding is probably the most cost-effective way to manage your cash flow.”
Loan terms have a 20-year payback period, and Boland said the subsidized interest rate is nearly a third of the market interest rate.
“They get a 70% subsidy, essentially,” he said.
The DNR program is funded by the EIERA issuing tax-exempt bonds, he said. The EIERA board then awards the funding to applying municipalities.
“A lot of communities across the United States and in Missouri have aging infrastructure systems,” Arthur said. “Usually, people can see roads and bridges when they are deteriorated, but you can’t really tell about water and sewer and a lot of other things underground. A lot of times cities don’t have $1 million or $5 million to write a check for these things.
“This agency is able to distribute bonds with low-interest money.”
The EIERA also has issued nearly $3 billion in private activity bonds since its inception, and distributed $20 million in weatherization funds, $12 million to manufacturers repurposing recycled materials and $3 million in brownfields cleanups.
Springfield has received $400,000 to clean up brownfields sites, with the majority of the grants from the EIERA supporting cleanup work at 1420 W. College St., just east of Kansas Expressway intersection.
“It used to be a bulk oil facility, and it had leaking tanks. It was a stormwater issue,” said Olivia Hough, a senior planner and brownfields coordinator with the city. “We excavated soil 12 feet down in the ground. You could smell the petroleum.”
The city acquired the property and completed cleanup in 2012.
The EIERA funding covered the cost of the cleanup, daylighting the portion of Jordan Creek that runs through the property and restoring natural vegetation.
“This was fairly extensive for a cleanup. We call it a legacy site. The historic uses on this site were common practice back then,” Hough said. “These are the incentives that help move the most difficult properties forward. Otherwise, they could stay in their current state and remain stagnant for years. The brownfields program has been a key to unlocking our most complicated problems downtown.”
Starting a conversation
As a newly appointed board member, Arthur said his goal is to educate municipalities and businesses across the state on how the EIERA can support their goals.
“There are other low-interest loan programs that give money to cities and schools (to install) solar and we use those a lot,” he said.
“I’ve been granted the opportunity to have this small pulpit to preach from about what this program can do.”
EIERA board members are unpaid, but they are reimbursed for travel expenses for meetings and community speaking engagements.
Boland said the authority operates on a $1.5 million budget, which is raised entirely through its programs.
“They have a very small budget,” Arthur said. “They really have to make their own money.”
Arthur, whose company Sun Solar reported $19 million in revenue last year, said he’s used bond and loan programs through the Missouri Division of Energy to help spur his company’s growth. He’s hoping to provide the same jumpstart to the EIERA.
“The solar industry already does a lot of bonding for different types of programs that we offer to businesses, so I’m really curious to see if they’ve fully unlocked those mechanisms or if there is still some strategy behind that to find some new sources of money and programs.
“What this group does is they will look at all different types of programs they can offer that fits within their mission. If we can make the environment cleaner and make our water cleaner and do it sustainably and funded ... then they are going to go after it.”
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