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California’s Capital Leads the Nation in Energy Efficiency Financing

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s California Dream 2.0 blog.

By: Kate Daniel, EDF Climate Corps Fellow

Kate Daniel, Climate Corps Fellow

Great news for California and the future of energy efficiency in Sacramento.

Today I took part in an announcement by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson unveiling the nation’s largest Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) project in the country — and potentially a huge boost for businesses in the state’s capital.

Launched by Clean Energy Sacramento, the property owners of Metro Center, Metzler Real Estate, will now be able to take advantage of PACE financing to fund $3.1 million in energy efficient upgrades, including high efficiency rooftop units for heating and cooling and a state-of-the-art building management system. Ultimately, these upgrades will save $140,000 in annual utility costs for the property.

This project is not just good news for Metro and Metzler, but for the entire Sacramento region. Here’s how it works: Under the PACE program Metzler will receive private funding from Ygrene Energy Fund, who covers the upfront costs of the project Metzler pays the costs back on their property tax bill while Johnson Controls will design and implement the upgrades.

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Maryland’s Governor O’Malley Leads The Way On Climate And Clean Energy Policy

John FinniganMaryland Governor Martin O’Malley continues to lead the way on climate and clean energy policy.  On Thursday, he unveiled Maryland’s new Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act (GGRA) Plan.  Gov. O’Malley’s plan raises the targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency and peak energy demand reduction, while re-affirming Maryland’s membership in the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  The plan adds new climate programs relating to transportation and forestry, and a new aspirational goal to make Maryland a zero-waste state.

Maryland is particularly vulnerable to climate change with 3,000 miles of shoreline along scenic Chesapeake Bay.  The state ranks 42nd in total area, but 10th in coastline area.  Gov. O’Malley has addressed climate change since his early days in office.  In 2007, he established the Maryland Climate Change Commission to address the causes and effects of climate change in Maryland and develop an action plan.  The Maryland Climate Action Plan (Plan) was issued in August 2008, and Gov. O’Malley has labored diligently to implement the plan since that time.

The new Plan  calls for increasing the renewable energy portfolio standard from 20% to 25% by 2022, as well as the energy efficiency and peak demand reduction targets (with the new, higher targets to be announced at a later date).  Like a true leader, Gov. O’Malley aims high and is unafraid to be different.  His call to raise these clean energy standards comes at a time when some states have been unsuccessfully pressured by the fossil-fuel industry to consider lowering their clean energy standards.

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Combining Solar And PACE In Connecticut: A Potential Game Changer For Commercial Properties

In my last post about Connecticut’s clean energy finance efforts, I alluded to an important innovation in their Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”) financing program for commercial properties.  PACE programs have been in place for several years, and the basic concept is that property owners are able to pay back clean energy financing through their property tax bill over time.  Rates tend to be low because property taxes are almost always paid back and the PACE assessment will survive foreclosures.

To date, PACE transactions have generally been structured as a set of fixed payments to finance retrofits managed by the property owner.  Functionally, these transactions have been quite similar to loans.  In the solar industry, however, the vast majority of financings have been structured as leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) in order to fully capture the tax benefits associated with solar investments.  This has generally resulted in fairly low use of PACE by solar installers and limited installations of solar on commercial properties.  (Most commercial properties have large mortgages and are not good candidates for additional financing unless PACE or On-Bill Repayment (OBR) can be used to improve credit quality.  The exceptions are buildings that are owned or occupied by very high quality credits, such as a large corporation or city.)

Connecticut is breaking new ground by allowing leases and PPAs to participate.  The lease or PPA payments would simply become part of the property tax bill.  If necessary, true-up mechanisms could be used to adjust payments and ensure that customers are not overbilled.  Additionally, we understand that this flexibility will likely be available for innovative energy efficiency financing for commercial properties.  EDF has long advocated for this type of flexibility (and we see this as a major benefit of OBR), but – to date – PACE programs have not incorporated this feature.

Hats off to Connecticut for once again showing us how to get things done!

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Financing Clean Energy: Innovations From The Nutmeg State

Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (“CEFIA”) was created in 2011 to help the state increase public and private investment in clean energy solutions that are cheaper and more reliable than traditional solutions.  I had the chance last week to catch up with Bryan Garcia, CEFIA’s CEO, and his impressive team.  I found three of their initiatives to be particularly innovative and impactful.

  • Commercial PACE (C-PACE) – Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is an innovative, market-based approach that helps alleviate the steep, upfront costs that property owners generally incur for energy improvements by using loans that are seamlessly repaid through an additional charge on their property tax bills. While many jurisdictions have implemented PACE programs, CEFIA has had a particularly hands-on approach of working with property owners, contractors, lenders and mortgage holders to reach agreement on transactions that meet the needs of each party.  This strategy appears to be paying off as CEFIA has received 190 applications since the program was launched in April 2013.  Additionally, the Connecticut program appears to be the first PACE program that supports commercial solar installations with the lowest-cost financing structures such as leases and power purchase agreements.  I believe this could be a game changer for installing solar projects and plan to write about this in greater detail in a blog post coming soon. Read More »
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