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New law would help homeowners, businesses go green

Article as it appeared in
June 23, 2010
By Grace Gagliano

BRADENTON — A clean energy program approved by Gov. Charlie Crist is intended to help property owners finance alternative energy improvements while boosting business for solar energy companies.

However, not all local municipalities or counties are ready to participate in the Property Assessed Clean Energy program — a key factor in making the program available locally.

The PACE program, passed under House Bill 7179 on June 1, allows homeowners and businesses to finance installation costs for energy retrofits such as solar panels — which can range from $8,000 to $30,000 — through their property tax bills.

Dale Gulden CEO of Solar Direct. Photo credit:  TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE
[Photo credit: Tiffany Tomkins-Condie|]
Dale Gulden, chief executive officer of Solar Direct, holds a 235-watt

Instead of the property owner paying the upfront costs, local government uses financing such as bonds, general funds or grants to pay for the retrofit costs upfront. In return, the property owners repay the government by having the cost added as a special assessment to their property tax bills over a 15- to 20-year period.

“That would be a heck of a boost for manufacturers of solar panels,” said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who sponsored the bill. “It may be the biggest boom that we’ve done yet. We have to figure out ways to control our cost of energy and this is one of them.”

But so far Sarasota County is the only local government taking steps to possibly adopt the program.

City of Sarasota officials said they are not considering the program at this time, and the city of Bradenton and Manatee County are starting to research the details.

Today, the Sarasota County Commission will discuss the PACE program during its regular meeting and decide whether to go ahead with writing an ordinance for the program.

As Sarasota County has explored the possibility of opting into the program, staff has studied five municipalities nationwide that have participated in PACE to see the financial obligations required.

Sun at Work. Photo credit:  TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE
[Photo credit: Tiffany Tomkins-Condie|]
A “sun at work” sticker is stuck to a stack of solar energy equipment.

According to its study of three California municipalities, Boulder, Colo., and Babylon, N.Y., the municipalities’ financing requirements ranged from $1.5 million to $100 million to fund property owners’ retrofits ranging in cost from $8,700 to $30,000.

Lee Hayes Byron, sustainability manager for Sarasota County, said there are concerns given the financial responsibility, however the county has applied for a $800,000 grant with the state that would help jumpstart the program if the county participates.

“It’s a big responsibility, it’s a big risk but if the commission gives permission for us to move forward we would do so in a way that minimizes those risks and finds the greatest opportunity to participate,” Byron said. “The PACE program is a good model for economic development and it’s really seen as a jobs opportunity in the construction industry that’s been hit the hardest.”

Manatee County Financial Manager Jim Seuffert said the county is in the process of learning about the program but the financing requirements are complicated.

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