Dane County Board pursuing clean energy financing

The Dane County Board is pursuing a financing model for clean energy projects.

PACE — or property assessed clean energy — is a program that lets certain property owners obtain long-term loans for projects relating to water conservation, energy efficiency and clean energy. Examples can include solar panel installation, high-efficiency heating and more.

Supervisor Patrick Miles of McFarland recently brought a PACE resolution to a meeting of the board. It will need to be reviewed by two committees before going to the board for final approval.

“PACE is an excellent example of the role government plays in making lasting, positive change,” said Miles. “PACE, at the same time, promotes economic development and creates jobs while improving the air we breathe and conserving valuable water resources in the county.”

Miles says a committee on environment, agriculture and natural resources will review the proposal Thursday, while a committee on personnel and finance will take a look June 5. He added he would be surprised if there is any opposition.

“The PACE financing approach is an interesting tool for the county. We can basically lower risk for lenders and keep the cost down, but we don’t end up putting any taxpayer money on the line,” Miles explained. “I expect it will get back for final adoption by our June 15 board meeting.”

Over 24 Wisconsin counties and 30 states nationwide are using this funding tool, which was established in Wisconsin in 2011 by the state Legislature. The PACE Statute lets “political subdivisions” — counties, cities, towns and villages — impose a special charge through a property lien to secure loans for these clean energy projects.

The program has so far focused only on commercial buildings, including office, industrial and multi-family housing with five or more units. But Miles says it could be expanded to residential property owners as well.

“Dane County is a proven leader in both environmental sustainability and economic development,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan. “Developing a PACE program here gives property owners yet another tool to finance cutting-edge projects that create jobs and add to the tax base while saving energy.”

The Wisconsin PACE Commission oversees the program at the state level, with support from Wisconsin Counties Association, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, and Green Tier Legacy Communities. Environmental advocacy groups like RENEW Wisconsin, Sierra Club, and Clean Wisconsin have expressed support for the program.

“We want to achieve sustainability goals through this, that aren’t just financial goals,” Miles told WisBusiness.com. “The need to improve our impact on the environment is ever-increasing, so any way we can motivate clean energy and water conservation, I think we should do it.”

Though PACE is a nationally organized effort, local governments have established programs through their state’s legislation, which varies region-to-region. No matter where it is implemented, a PACE program can cover all hard and soft costs for an eligible project, and offer financing terms of up to 20 years.

It’s a voluntary program for anyone who wants to get involved, and any energy projects supported through the program are permanently linked to a property.

–By Alex Moe