As this Grist article recently stated “Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, has taken off like wildfire since the concept was first introduced in Berkeley, Calif. in October ‘07. PACE allows private property owners to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through an addition to their property tax bill, overcoming the high upfront costs that prevent most property owners from investing in such retrofits.”
Numerous states around the country have adopted legislative changes that allow municipalities within them to set up these kind of clean energy loan programs that give out loans to residents and businesses, and collect the repayments over a considerable period of time through their property taxes. My student group UMD for Clean Energy at the University of Maryland made this kind of a loan fund for energy efficiency a major election issue last fall in our local College Park city council elections. With enthusiasm from the city council to establish such a program, we faced a setback when the state of Maryland did not adequately permit municipalities to do this. Our focus turned to advocating for legislation in this Maryland legislative session that would allow us to create our own clean energy revolution in College Park. An added positive is it would clear the way for other municipalities all around the state to do PACE as well.
With state legislation introduced and the committee hearings coming up, we are pushing to ensure the legislation isn’t gutted like last year. Below is a column by our Organizational Director Laura Calabrese on our efforts to get this legislation through Maryland, and to make our town of College Park a leader. Enjoy, find out more, pass along the video, and stay tuned!
Guest column: Paying the bill
By Laura Calabrese
Solar water heaters, Energy Star appliances, white roofs, compact fluorescent lightbulbs. These phrases seem to describe smart home improvements that we will use to save energy in a distant, futuristic time (when we’re not in a recession). In reality, it’s 2010. Renewable energy and energy efficient technologies are well-developed and ready to go, and implementing them now could put us on our way to economic recovery.
With the help of state Del. Sue Hecht (D-Frederick) and state Sen. Thomas Middleton (D-Charles), the College Park City Council and the student advocacy group UMD for Clean Energy are working to bring these innovations to College Park.
Last month, Hecht introduced the clean energy loans bill to the General Assembly. If passed, it will make it possible for municipalities in the state to create programs that would provide homeowners and businesses with the opportunity to take advantage of these cutting edge technologies.
These dynamic programs are called clean energy loan funds. Each fund creates a pool of money for residents or businesses in a given city or county to take out low-interest loans that would finance clean-energy upgrades and energy efficient improvements. Borrowers could pay off their loan through property tax assessments in increments roughly equal to their energy cost savings and continue to reap the savings once the loan is paid off. The fund would be self-sustaining — within a few years it would receive the return on investment, which can then be loaned out again.
UMD for Clean Energy has been advocating for a loan fund in College Park since last fall and is discussing the implementation of a program with an enthusiastic city council. The idea gained national attention after recent successes in New York; Portland, Ore.; Boulder, Colo.; and San Francisco. New York’s Green Jobs/Green New York program has committed $112 million to retrofit and weatherize homes and businesses, and San Francisco’s Property Assessed Clean Energy program has $150 million in bonding capacity available. The programs require an energy auditor to go through and identify opportunities for clean energy innovation in the building and a contractor to go in and make the improvements. Besides creating economic opportunity and saving people money, installing these technologies means cleaner air and a reduced risk of climate change. Win-win-win-win.
These types of policies are being pushed at all levels of government. The Energy Department promoted the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program at the end of 2009 that provided grants to local governments for whole-neighborhood energy retrofits and other projects to reduce local energy use. This initiative, which had up to $454 million available, shows the ongoing push for green investment everywhere.
To receive a grant of this type, a government must show that they have a plan for how to use the money. By enabling cities in this state to adopt loan fund programs, the clean energy loans bill will open tremendous opportunity for cities such as College Park to receive significant green investment.
This is a clear-cut opportunity to create a local market for clean energy and reduce our impact on climate change and our pocketbooks. We have dedicated student activists who are working with a progressive city council to make it happen right here. In the not-so-distant future, College Park will join New York and San Francisco at the forefront of the clean energy revolution. Call your state representatives today to speak in support of the clean energy loans bill: House Bill 1014 and Senate Bill 720. For more information, visit http://www.umdforcleanenergy.com/clean-energy-loan-program.html.
Laura Calabrese is the organizational director for the student group UMD for Clean Energy. She can be reached at lcalabre at umd dot edu.