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Counties Energy supercharges its sustainable investment through $200m ASB Sustainability Transition Loan

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Counties Energy Limited, the electricity distribution provider for the southern Auckland and northern Waikato regions has today announced it has secured up to $200m to support sustainability projects and operational investment through an ASB Sustainable Transition Loan (STL).

The ASB STL provides Counties Energy with a special variable interest rate linked to the delivery of Counties Energy’s environmental and sustainability strategy. Going beyond straight financing, the ASB agreement also includes supporting Counties Energy with specialist sustainability expertise to support the verification, scoping and materiality of its environmental and social targets.

The STL is currently unique in market. It offers customers like Counties Energy a hybrid sustainable financing option designed to support development of their company’s transition planning, strategy and measurement of specific environment, social and governance (ESG) goals.

Specifically, the STL structure requires borrowers such as Counties Energy to invest in the development of relevant, material measurements for key climate and social measures over the first 12-months of the facility and post independent verification to report progress against agreed targets. Importantly it can provide borrowers with a structured future pathway to issuance of sustainability linked Loans and bonds.

James Paterson, ASB Head of Sustainable Finance says ASB is delighted to be partnering with Counties Energy as it embeds ESG principles into its strategy and operations.

“Counties Energy is leading the way trialling new initiatives to enable New Zealand’s energy transition. We’re seeing an incredible commitment to innovation aligned to strong focus on social elements of its ESG commitments, through inclusion of employee wellbeing targets and community investment goals in its lending with us.”

Counties Energy Chief Financial Officer, Conrad Harvey says the loan will enable the customer-owned energy network provider to progress with key sustainability initiatives, including the conversion of the company’s Elevated Work Platform (EWP), or “bucket truck” fleet to hybrid electric truck batteries.

The company is currently trialling the technology on one of its vehicles, which has been modified to include a rechargeable electric battery, enabling the diesel engine to be switched off.

Counties Energy says retrofitting its entire EWP fleet would save 271,152 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per year and see a 30% reduction in the company’s overall emissions from fuel use. The diesel engines will be retained on the vehicles for resilience purposes, including for use during emergencies.

“As New Zealand transitions to a fully renewable electricity grid Counties Energy is committed to decarbonising our daily operations and developing sustainable technological innovations and smarter energy solutions for our customers,” says Conrad Harvey.

“Transitioning our EWP fleet from diesel to hybrid-electric powertrains would result in a significant emissions reduction. However, as with many sustainability initiatives, that comes with a cost. The ASB Sustainability Loan will help us to fast-track initiatives such as this by providing a very competitive, special variable interest rate,” he says.

“As a wholly customer-owned entity, we work with our customers to reimagine the future of energy, and to make much broader decisions across our network and beyond, in a smarter, safer, more sustainable, reliable and affordable way.”

Counties Energy, which has Toitū carbonreduce certification, says it is also investigating other ways to achieve emissions reductions, including by increasing the availability of renewable energy generation within the network – including through customer generation and community energy schemes.

Counties Energy is also working on introducing portable battery systems – derived from repurposed EV batteries – that can be used in emergencies or to improve network delivery and resilience. Counties Energy plans to install a similar unit at its EV-charging site in Mercer, which would see savings during peak energy use by charging the battery during off-peak periods. The battery system will help to avoid energy use during emissions-intensive generation peaks and could also attract a lower price for EV-charging customers, as energy will be stored during off-peak periods.

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