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Alachua County Closer To Energy Solution Options For Property Owners

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Last year, Daniel Dietch upgraded his Surfside, Florida home’s energy efficiency by replacing his roof and adding solar panels. Rather than paying for the project up front or taking out a loan, Dietch used a PACE service to finance his project.

Daniel Dietch, Mayor of Surfside, used the PACE system to fund his roof and solar panel system, seen here, in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Dietch)
Daniel Dietch, Mayor of Surfside, used the PACE system to fund his roof and solar panel system, seen here, in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Dietch)

PACE, or property-assessed clean energy, allows residential and commercial property owners to finance renewable and more efficient energy solutions in homes and businesses.

Dietch, the mayor of Surfside, remembers when PACE programs were first starting in the Bay Area of California, where he lived at the time. Officials there were looking for ways to bring affordable energy solutions to property owners.

Rather than footing the bill up front or taking out a loan, the property owner can finance a project through PACE and make payments on the bill once a year, when the property owner pays his or her property taxes. Typically, projects are financed through 10 to 20 year repayment periods.

“It allows people to access capital they might not otherwise have access to,” Dietch said.

On Feb. 9, the Alachua County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to sign another PACE provider to Alachua County. In addition to the previously signed Ygrene Works, Renew Financial (formerly EcoCity Partners) was signed to do business in Alachua County through an interlocal agreement.

The two companies still have to finalize forms with the tax collector’s office before services to residents can begin, but that should be done within a couple of months, said Sean McLendon, assistant to the county manager.

“Our community is eagerly waiting for the pen to hit paper,” he said.

Amy Elliott is an account manager for Renew Financial.

“PACE is available for any improvement that provides energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy, water efficiency and wind mitigation improvements,” she said.

These improvements can range from large appliances to solar panel systems. In addition to covering energy solutions, it can also include storm-defense additions, such as high wind-resistant windows and stronger roofs for defense against hurricanes.

In order for a property owner to use PACE, he or she must first discuss his or her needs with Renew Financial or Ygrene. Then, the chosen provider will hire an approved contractor to do the work.

Not everyone is a fan of the program, however.

The biggest opponent of PACE is the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which claims the program violates some mortgage agreements, like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The biggest claim is if property is sold or transferred, the debt will be tied to it automatically.

Joe Spector, vice president of operations at Ygrene Works, said that isn’t true. The debt tied to PACE programs can be paid off by the property owner before transfer.

PACE services and renewable energy activists are constantly working with the FHFA trying to make the program more accessible and widely-accepted.

“How can we coexist happily?” asked Spector.

With the addition of Alachua County, PACE services continue to spread through Florida, attracting more communities to allow services within their borders.

The framework for Alachua County’s PACE agreement can be found here.

About Lucas Wilson

Lucas is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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