Rural Montana needs PACE

April 7, 2017

Categories: Agriculture, Clean Energy, Plains Speaking

By: Carol Nash

 

In Montana’s small towns and rural areas, there are many old buildings and homes in need of upkeep and renovation. If you’ve ever driven down Main Street, no matter what the town, you know what I mean.

My husband, son, and I operate a ranch outside Bridger, Montana, as well as a motel in town. In this small town of less than 1,000 people, many of the buildings are close to 100 years old. Our motel was built in the 1950s. As you can imagine, they could all use some attention.

Utility costs are the single biggest yearly expense at our motel. Better insulation, new windows, more efficient heating and cooling systems, and simple measures like caulking and weather-stripping would go a long way toward improving our properties and saving us money on utilities.

However, many people struggle to afford the up-front cost – especially of a more energy efficient model – even though it could save them money over the long term.

A frequent question is: Can’t you get a loan for that? Not necessarily. Commercial loans are not as readily available as you might think for upgrades like insulation or a boiler, and many ranchers are already using their line of credit to maintain their operation.

Overcoming the financing gap

The Bridger Motel on Main Street in Bridger, MT.

The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Act or SB 330 that is moving through the Montana Legislature would overcome these barriers.

PACE enables private financing from banks and credit unions for energy efficiency, water conservation, and renewable energy upgrades to existing buildings. Yes, I said private financing – PACE does not rely on taxpayer money.

Financing is repaid through an assessment on your property taxes over a term of up to 20 years. Compare that to commercial loans which typically don’t extend beyond seven years. The long term of PACE financing allows your annual utility savings to exceed your annual repayment from day one so you are cash flow positive.

Voluntary public-private partnership

Carol Nash feeds her cattle. Many businesses, including ranches, use their line of credit for regular operations and may not be able to get a traditional load for energy efficiency improvements. PACE offers a solution.

If we enable PACE in Montana, it will be completely voluntary. Counties and cities would have the choice of whether to create a local PACE program. They could create a joint program with other local governments or hire a third-party program administrator to ease the workload.

PACE is a true public-private partnership. The involvement of the city or county, and use of the property assessment, reduces risk for banks and makes them more willing to finance energy efficiency. The local government benefits from meeting its economic development goals and increasing the local property tax base.

In a year where our state faces competing infrastructure needs and a limited budget, we need tools like PACE to bring in private investment to improve private properties.

Boosting local economies

We’re excited about the opportunity to save money, improve our buildings, and have more (or any!) cash left over at the end of the month. But we’re just as excited about the benefits of PACE to our whole community.

In a small town like Bridger, there are few employment opportunities. But if Carbon County enabled PACE, we could support more good-paying jobs. When property owners can afford upgrades, they complete more projects and put contractors and engineers and installers to work. And when businesses save money on utilities, they can reinvest those savings into the business, and the local economy.

PACE would generate more economic activity in rural areas all across the state.

Let’s win on PACE

The beauty of fall on the Nash Ranch outside of Bridger.

PACE is a win-win for everyone involved. That’s why PACE has bipartisan support from sponsor Sen. Chas Vincent (R-Libby), Governor Bullock, and multiple cities and counties, and recently passed the Montana Senate on a 31-19 vote.

Now the bill is in the House of Representatives. The bill will be heard in the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday, April 10, at 3 p.m. If it passes the House, it will go to the Governor’s desk!

Take action today and ask the House Natural Resources Committee to vote “Yes” on SB 330 so that so that we can have a more secure energy future and create jobs for our communities. Call 406-444-4800 and leave a message for the Committee.

Northern Plains members Carol and Jerry Nash and son Tom Tschida, ranch near Bridger, Montana.

NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154
info@northernplains.org