NRStor taps union-backed pension fund for $200-million in clean-tech financing

Original article by Shawn McCarthy, published in the Globe and Mail.

NRStor Inc. has tapped a union-backed pension fund for equity and project financing as it looks to commercialize energy-storage technology that would support a growing reliance on renewable energy.

Led by former Home Depot Inc. chief executive Annette Verschuren, NRStor announced Monday a partnership with Labourers’ Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada (LiUNA), a multi-employer fund with $5.7-billion in assets under management.

LiUNA led an equity financing that raised $11-million, including a contribution from Ms. Verschuren, and has committed to provide $200-million in project financing to support several NRStor projects. The privately held company is developing projects including large-scale compressed air storage and commercial and industrial battery applications that allow companies to reduce expensive peak-hour use.

In an interview, Ms. Verschuren said the partnership with LiUNA allows NRStor to overcome a key financing challenge faced by clean-technology companies, which often have trouble attracting pension-fund and other institutional capital.

“Pension funds are pretty conservative,” she said. “But I am impressed with LiUNA – supporting clean tech, and the scaling up and commercializing of new energy-storage technologies. We have a pipeline of projects that has access to capital.”

The pension-fund managers see “immense opportunity in financing energy-storage infrastructure,” Joe Mancinelli, LiUNA international vice-president, said in a release Monday. “We believe energy storage is a key enabler of our future energy system, and welcome the opportunity to invest capital into low-carbon assets on behalf of our pension fund.”

Companies around the world are working to commercialize electricity-storage technology – from batteries to compressed air applications to flywheel technology that helps regulate energy flow – in order to improve the efficiency of the power grid given the intermittent nature of wind and solar power. The emergence of low-cost storage would avoid the need to provide backup sources of electricity.

Ms. Verschuren said technology prices are falling and it is now financially advantageous for commercial and industrial power users to install battery storage to better manage their energy costs.