From the western tip of the Upper Peninsula to the eastern coast of Lake Erie, Michigan families and businesses are making smart investments in energy efficiency. So many investments, in fact, that in June, Michigan Saves celebrated a significant milestone: $50 million in energy investments. Put differently, Michigan Saves has made it possible for $50 million to flow into the hands of people wanting to make a difference in their energy consumption.

Michigan Saves is dedicated to making energy improvements easier for all Michigan energy consumers. To accomplish this, it makes affordable financing available through partnerships with private sector lenders. Michigan Saves issued its first loan in September 2010, and less than five years later, it saw the commitment to investing in energy-efficiency improvements reflected in the fact that its total loan portfolio has crossed the $50 million mark.

“We started in 2009 with grant funding from the Michigan Public Service Commission and a vision to break down barriers that prevent homeowners and business owners from doing energy-efficiency work,” says Mary Templeton, executive director of Michigan Saves. “Five years later, $50 million in private investment represents the tireless efforts of local contractors and lenders providing capital to thousands of Michiganders wanting to take control of their energy costs.

“At the end of the day, it’s those Michiganders — those families and business owners — who are making the choice to improve the health, safety, efficiency and comfort of their buildings. And we should be grateful to them. Their individual actions benefit everyone in this state because we’re collectively reducing waste and improving our sustainability.”

Michigan Saves strongly encourages energy-efficiency investments at the individual level, knowing that each one added together moves the needle on total energy consumption. Michigan Saves takes the same incremental approach when creating programs.

And $50 million is a big number. What makes up that number are growing programs tailored for specific consumers. Michigan Saves’ programs have experienced notable achievements over the years, detailed below.

Home Energy Loan Program (HELP): $42,069,356 in investments to date

HELP provides up to $30,000 in financing to homeowners for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.

When HELP first started, Michigan Saves was fortunate enough to receive additional funding from the U.S. Department of Energy after Michigan won a $30 million grant to build an energy-efficiency market in the state.

Michigan Saves used this one-time infusion of cash to establish a robust loan loss reserve that would support the market for years to come. “In addition to solving the credit crunch with our loan program, we offered all kinds of incentives that leveraged utility rebates, infusing quite a bit of cash into the economy in 2011 through 2013,” Templeton says. “Once the grant funding and incentives ran out, we saw a serious dip in projects.”

Since then, Michigan Saves has been working hard to use the loan loss reserve buoyed by earlier grant funds to grow the program locally with the help of contractors, lenders and utilities in order to raise awareness and drive demand for energy improvements. That milestone was achieved in June, reaching over $40 million in homeowner investments.

Establishing a loan loss reserve fund in the early stages of the program allows Michigan Saves to continue for many years into the future. This fund significantly reduces the risk to lenders and allows customers to access a source of unsecured financing.

“Our lenders are amazing,” Templeton adds. “They have been aggressive about rates, coming in with loans under 5% APR. An unsecured loan of 4.25% APR for up to $30,000 with a ten-year term is unheard of in the residential space. This kind of financing is not offered outside of Michigan Saves’ programming.”

Business Energy Financing (BEF): $8,696,454 in investments to date

The BEF program started in 2012; it finances improvements to lighting systems, heating and air conditioning upgrades, food service equipment, building operations and envelope improvements for businesses. Financing ranges from $2,000 to $250,000 and is often structured so the savings are equal to or greater than the business’ monthly savings.

Throughout the state, 252 businesses have made almost $8.7 million in investments.

“The diversity of businesses utilizing BEF is impressive,” Templeton says. “Everything from an independently owned grocer all the way up to McDonald’s — any kind of business you can think of — has invested in energy efficiency through this program.”

Michigan Saves has worked hard with lenders and contractors to ensure companies interested in the program get approved, and 90 to 95 percent of them are. Several utility partners have also helped with the rapid growth of the BEF program by providing interest rate buydown incentives.

Multifamily Energy Financing: $651,043 in investments to date

The Multifamily Energy Financing program, formed through a partnership with Capital Fund Services, offers equipment finance agreements of $2,000 to $250,000 for multifamily housing properties with at least four units.

Nine projects have been funded to date, and have provided benefits to not only property managers, but also the people living in the units. Energy savings for managers means more aesthetically pleasing spaces, less maintenance and safer living places.

Michigan Saves staff credit the program’s lenders and partners, which promote and further its success.

“We couldn’t do it without the lenders, nor the contractors, utility partners, funders, Michigan Public Service Commission, U.S. Department of Energy or the Michigan Agency for Energy,” says Templeton. “And we can’t forget to thank the Michiganders who have chosen smart energy investments time and time again.”

The Michigan Saves team is excited for growth, planning to help even more businesses and individuals to take advantage of these programs.

“Overall, lenders have plenty of money to lend, and much of our work is in continuing to encourage them to invest in this space. We do that by demonstrating value and improving the underwriting process and financing terms to make it easy and affordable for everyone,” Templeton notes.