Guest opinion: PACE can power up Montana economy – Billings Gazette, March 11, 2017

March 13, 2017

Categories: Agriculture, Clean Water, Legislature, News

By Jay Cederberg

This winter, many of Montana’s families and businesses are facing high utility bills resulting from old or inefficient homes and buildings that are in need of upgrades. While improvements like more insulation or a more efficient boiler could save property owners money on utilities over the long term, the upfront cost of these upgrades is a challenge for many Montanans.

That’s why a bipartisan coalition of cities, counties, contractors, business owners, and banks have come together around a solution that utilizes private financing to help Montanans save money on utilities, expand local businesses, create jobs, and invest in Main Street Montana. The first step to realizing these benefits is to pass the PACE Act (SB 330).

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a proposed program that funds energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation upgrades to existing buildings with private capital from banks and investors. Financing is repaid as an assessment on the property’s regular tax bill over a term of up to 20 years.

This is a tried-and-true financing mechanism similar to Special Improvement Districts, which many of our communities already use for sidewalk and sewer improvements. The annual energy savings for a PACE project are designed to exceed the annual assessment payment, so property owners save money from the start.

PACE in 33 states

PACE can power economic development in Montana. When property owners can affordably finance upgrades to existing buildings, more projects are undertaken and completed using the local workforce — creating more jobs for HVAC, insulation, lighting, and electrical contractors, engineers, and suppliers. And when businesses and individuals spend less on utilities, they have more disposable income to reinvest in their business or spend elsewhere.

PACE is a program with no cost to the taxpayer. Projects are funded using private capital from banks and investors. The public-private partnership between private capital and cities or counties allows banks to lend more in their communities and invest in Montana’s families and businesses while meeting local governments’ economic development goals. In a year where our state faces a tight budget and many competing infrastructure priorities, this is the solution we need.

Thirty-three states already have PACE, including Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nebraska. PACE has led to over $3 billion in investment into 132,820 residential and commercial projects nationwide since 2008 and created nearly 33,000 jobs.

SB 330, introduced by Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, has strong support from Gov. Steve Bullock.

Voluntary program

Once passed, PACE will be completely voluntary for cities and counties, and for individuals within them. Local governments can choose to opt-in to the PACE program, or not. Property owners in jurisdictions that have chosen to opt-in can apply for PACE financing to make needed upgrades, or not. The voluntary nature of PACE allows Montanans more choices when it comes to financing upgrades to their homes and businesses.

We urge the 2017 Montana Legislature to pass the PACE Act to provide property owners more choices to finance needed building upgrades, help save people money on their utilities, and strengthen local economies.

For more information about PACE and to see the broad coalition of support behind the program, visit www.mtpace.com and sign on.

Jay Cederberg of Air Controls in Billings wrote this opinion in collboration with Tyler Gernant, Missoula County clerk and treasurer; and Rob Farris-Olsen, Helena city commissioner.

http://billingsgazette.com/news/opinion/guest/guest-opinion-pace-can-power-up-montana-economy/article_07bb0259-bf98-5f96-896f-10abe07d1b24.html

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