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Ahead of grand opening, bank launches solar energy loan program

Brian Hartz

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Climate First Bank founder, CEO and Chairman Ken LaRoe. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie LaRoe.

Climate First Bank, a newly formed community bank based in St. Petersburg, has unveiled the details of its residential and commercial solar energy loan programs as it prepares for grand opening celebrations next week.

Billing itself as a values-based bank, Climate First is the brainchild of veteran Florida banker and entrepreneur Ken LaRoe, who also founded Florida Choice Bank and First GREEN Bank. The latter institution offered a solar loan program before it was sold to Seacoast Bank.

According to a news release, the First GREEN Bank program was a prototype of the one that will be offered at Climate First Bank, which will offer annual percentage rates as low as 4.08 percent, over 12 years, for homeowners who want to finance solar energy projects. For businesses, the bank is offering a flexible term and structure to meet the unique needs of each client. Closing fees will be “minimal,” the release stated, and the bank can provide an expedited approval process in many cases.

“There’s no catch, no unexpected installer fees, no bait and switch,” LaRoe said in a prepared statement. “Climate First Bank is offering one of the most competitive programs in the country.”

The bank, which has positioned itself as part of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement that promotes responsible business practices, was founded with the mission of increasing access to renewable energy sources and technology, which, in turn, will help break society’s carbon addiction, the release stated.

“If we’re going to drawdown our carbon dioxide emissions, financial institutions need to stop playing games with customers,” LaRoe said in his statement. “Everyone has to do their part, and at Climate First Bank we’re pushing for sustainable development by ensuring everyone has access to affordable and reliable renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Speaking to the Catalyst, LaRoe said Climate First Bank had $70-$80 million in loans in its pipeline prior to opening. At First GREEN Bank, it took him a year to surpass $25 million in loans. “That’s all very much an affirmation” of Climate First’s strategy and how much the appetite for socially responsible banking and investing has grown, he said.

Climate First Bank Executive Vice President Valarie Nussbaum-Harris, a veteran of the Tampa Bay banking sector, played a key role in developing the solar loan programs.

“Climate First Bank is committed to helping residents and businesses make the transition towards sustainable solar energy,” she said in a prepared statement. “With transparent and easy to understand financing, we make the investment simple, worry free and financially sound.”

Nussbaum-Harris told the Catalyst that the bank’s solar loan programs are just the beginning in terms of socially and environmentally responsible banking products.

“We are establishing a for-profit bank and, at the same time, a nonprofit, values-based, mission-driven institution, which does not exist right now in banking. So merging those missions is a little bit unique and maybe challenging. We know how to do solar, so that’s the space that we’re really focusing on, but in time we will also expand to other areas of ESG.”

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