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Travis County picks up the PACE

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County is the first jurisdiction in Texas to participate in a program that seems to hit the sweet spot between the business community and environmentalists.

The Texas Legislature voted in 2013 to allow cities and counties to enact their own versions of the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as PACE. This year, the Travis County Commissioners Court took steps to allow commercial, industrial and agricultural property owners to take advantage of the financing deal.

Through PACE, property owners can borrow money from participating lenders to pay for energy efficiency or water conservation upgrades to their buildings. The borrowers pay back the long-term loans via a special assessment on their property taxes. The idea is to encourage otherwise costly capital investments that now provide immediate returns in the form of lower utility bills.

Commissioners Gerald Daugherty and Brigid Shea last Wednesday hosted a special luncheon at the County Administration Building in downtown Austin to introduce area business owners to a panel of PACE experts. Among them was Jonathon Blackburn of the Texas PACE Authority, the nonprofit administrator of the county’s PACE program.

Blackburn explained that eligible projects include energy- or water-efficient improvements that are permanently attached to a building. “That could be things like an HVAC system, a lighting system, insulation, roofing, solar, gray water reuse, rainwater collection,” he said.

More than half of the 50 states have approved some form of PACE financing since the city of Berkeley, California, first launched its program in 2008. Residential versions of PACE have faced heat from the federal government, which deemed them too risky for homeowners in an unsuccessful challenge that ended last year. Texas’ version of PACE doesn’t extend to residents. Additionally, it does not involve public money, which from the county’s perspective means there’s little to lose and at least a little to gain.

“Should there be any delinquencies, Travis County will collect those delinquencies just like we collect delinquent property taxes,” Travis County tax assessor/collector Bruce Elfant told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday. “But given the vetting of these loans, we really don’t expect that many delinquencies.”

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