A new Florida Statute (163.08) encourages city council to establish an energy finance district that provides a way for business owners to upgrade their properties to make them more energy efficient.
The program to implement the statute is called PACE, an acronym for Property Assessed Clean Energy. It's aim is to provide financing for a wide range of energy saving improvements, including wind resistant shingles, impact windows and doors, storm shutters, weatherization overhauls, insulation and solar power.
Property improvements, financed 100 percent up to 20 years, would be based on property value, not borrower credit. The lending would come at no cost to the city, and would be available to owners.
The program is voluntary and would require no new taxes. Loan payments, at low municipal rates, would be collected along with annual property taxes.
Vice Mayor King made it clear that she wanted to avoid the objections voiced at the PACE workshop in early January by taking the residential piece of the program off the table. More than once during the meeting at the Gulfport Neighborhood Center, King repeated that she's focusing exclusively on commercial properties.
The notion of extending the program to residential properties brought with it the by freezing new lending to residents – or potential residents – within or near an established energy finance district.
The worry was that Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae would red-line local home mortgage seekers in retaliation for participation in a program that increases lending risk. Since loans through PACE are property-based, if a property defaults PACE receives payments before the bank.
With residential participation out of the picture, the problem that Freddy and Fannie pose goes away also, King explained. The Vice Mayor said she saw no downside to the commercial implementation of the PACE program.
“If we get a positive vote on this,” said King, “we'll be the first area in Pinellas County to take advantage of the program; and if we act within 90 days, we'll have the first green corridor in Florida.”
Marketing consultant Mario Farias agreed with the Vice Mayor. Farias, whose company could provide third party administration of PACE should it pass, articulated a vision of South 49th Street as an area that could grow 200 jobs, attract new businesses, and develop into a model business district -- with excellent public transport, smart energy-efficient businesses and an emphasis on a green business lifestyle.
Farias also emphasized the importance of third party administration to ensure that construction contracts are transparent and fairly priced.
“PACE will be able to vet every construction company by using independent energy auditors. These folks protect the business owners by qualifying construction companies, having them compete in the bidding process and holding them to account by paying them for work as it's completed,” said Farias.
Farias ended his presentation by mentioning “the three big pluses of PACE: Property values increase, utility costs decrease and employees are happier, healthier and more productive.”
Energy savings would be a fact; cash savings a desired effect. Business owners who have undertaken similar green initiatives elsewhere in the country (like Long Island, New York) witnessed an unprecedented rise in the price of their energy as electric companies reacted to the area's reduced consumption with increased pricing.
Vice Mayor King urged all present to consider passing the ordinance before March 8, when residents vote for local office holders. “If we can pass this by the 8th of March, we could actually see South 49th Street redeveloping and going green by this Summer,” she said.
Tonight City Council members will discuss the PACE Ordinance during First Reading beginning at 7 p.m. at Gulfport City Hall.
Correction: In the original version of this story Patch indicated that renters could apply for the PACE Program when in fact the program is only available to business owners. The story has been updated to reflect that. Patch sincerely regrets the error.
Correction: In the original version of this story Patch indicated that Mario Farias' Company would provide third party administration of the program when in fact the company could provide third party administration. The third party administrator as not been determined at this time. The story has been updated to reflect that. Patch sincerely regrets the error.