Five Questions With: Michael Baer

Michael Baer is the managing director, program and business development, at Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. Baer leads the bank’s client-management and product-development business, creating financial products to fill infrastructure investment gaps for local governments, commercial and residential property owners in the state.

Previously, Baer worked in the New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and at the Department of Environmental Conservation. He started his career at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, where he worked for eight years and left as chief financial officer for J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s U.S. Equity Global Multi-Asset Group. Baer is a chartered financial analyst.

PBN: What are the key goals of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank?

BAER: Our mission is to increase the investment in infrastructure by providing low-cost finance for cities and towns, commercial businesses and private homeowners. These investments include upgrading local roads and bridges, delivering safe drinking water, improving water quality and investing in clean energy. We significantly reduce interest costs for our customers, which increases infrastructure investment and also provides financial flexibility to invest in other priorities.

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PBN: The Infrastructure Bank’s C-PACE program has saved millions for commercial businesses. How does this program work?

BAER: Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy provides innovative financing for businesses to make investments that reduce their energy costs. To date, C-PACE has provided $3.5 million in financing for 12 projects across Rhode Island, saving these businesses almost $7 million in energy costs.  Examples range from solar on a manufacturing facility in Westerly to installing HVAC, LED lights and water-conservation improvements at a nonprofit in Providence. The cumulative impact of these investments has been to reduce carbon emissions in the state by 12,000 tons. C-PACE is also available to developers who are involved in new construction or major renovations.

PBN: What are some recent examples of projects financed by the Infrastructure Bank that have saved communities and taxpayers money?

BAER: Our recent clean-water transaction provided $28 million to Bristol, Middletown, Warren and Westerly for critical wastewater, sewer and storm water projects. Financing these projects through the Infrastructure Bank will save the four communities almost $4 million in interest costs.

Efficient Buildings Fund provides below-market-rate loans to cities, towns and quasi-public agencies to invest in clean-energy projects. Since 2016, we have saved 10 municipalities over $28 million in energy costs by providing financing for LED lights, high-efficiency HVAC and renewable-energy systems.

PBN: The Infrastructure Bank also finances less-visible projects that people don’t often think about. Can you cite some examples?

BAER: Our CEO, Jeffrey Diehl, grew up near Flint, Mich., and has closely followed their water quality story. Flint’s experience shows how innovative solutions need to be created to protect public health.

We recently worked with Providence Water to structure an innovative program that will significantly increase the amount of money available for their customers to replace lead service lines at individual properties. Our $1 million, interest-free loan to Providence Water will accelerate the improvement in drinking water quality and public health.

PBN: The Infrastructure Bank also funds programs that can save individual homeowners money on sewer tie-in costs, replacing cesspools, repairing old septic systems and other costly projects. How can someone take advantage of these programs?

BAER: Our Community Septic System Loan Program has committed over $17 million to homeowners who need to close a cesspool or replace an old septic system. This program provides loans to residents in participating municipalities at zero interest. These loans can be as long as 10 years and up to $25,000. We have seen interest in this program grow considerably since 2015 and we have met this demand by doubling the amount of money allocated to this program.

Our Sewer Tie-In Loan Fund provides homeowners with zero-interest loans to tie into sewer lines. This program makes the typical $3,000 to $5,000 cost of connecting to a sewer much more affordable.

Mary Lhowe is a PBN contributing writer.