PACE program: Coming to a city near you

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If you’re a sustainable energy enthusiast, a new program could help you upgrade your home with no money down.

At city council on July 9, Coun. Jacquie Hansen said she intends to put forward a motion that would see the City of St. Albert formally express its interest in the PACE Alberta program and possibly opt into the green initiative in the future.

The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program is an affordable financing option for property owners to upgrade a building’s energy efficiency, without having to pay the upfront costs.

Once an owner decides to make an upgrade (for example, installing solar panels), they sign an agreement with their municipality which then works with a third-party lender to fund the upgrade. The owner pays back the cost of the upgrade through property taxes, which the municipality passes on to the lender.

“If we become a city that’s taking our climate seriously and if we do pass this bylaw, I think it says ‘Yes, let’s get ahead of the game.’ Let’s at least be leaders in this and start to develop homes and neighbourhoods that are green,” Hansen said.

The PACE program helps property owners make expensive energy efficient upgrades that they otherwise might not have been able to afford. Supposedly, the money that owners save on utility bills should balance out the money added to their property tax. Ideally, the upgrades pay for themselves.

This method addresses not only the problem of cost, but also the problem of transferability. If the owner sells the house, the cost of the upgrade is transferred to the next owner. In the past, the only way to gain back investments would be to increase the sale price of the house (which doesn’t always add up).

Bill 10, the Clean Energy Improvement Act

The legislation that enables municipalities to start up a PACE program, Bill 10, passed on June 6. Hansen said she was pleased when she heard the bill passed.

“I think it signals to Albertans that the government is ready and willing to start taking green initiatives seriously,” she said.

PACE Alberta ambassador Leigh Bond said the next step is to engage with stakeholders and figure out which municipalities are interested in opting into the program, because it’s not mandatory. He said communities such as Edmonton, Red Deer, Devon and the County of Opportunity (Wabasca-Desmarais) have already expressed an interest.

“In the province we have 344 municipalities. It will take a lot of time to get to all of those people. In the meantime, there will need to be regulations done,” Bond said.

Municipalities committed to the green initiative will need to approve a PACE bylaw. The bylaw would address the clean energy tax that would be imposed on buildings in respect to energy efficiency improvements, and how the funds would be administered. Without a bylaw, residents would not be able to participate in the program.

Hansen said the good news is the program is opt-in. People have the option to finance these upgrades. Hansen said people who do choose to opt-in will feel better about lowering their carbon footprint.

“I think they’ll see personal savings in the way their house uses energy and in their own behaviour,” she said.

“To me, it really is the beginning of a cultural shift. I think the more it catches on and people realize that it’s easy to do and finance, they can take pride in how they’re living day to day.”

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Jasmine Roy