Forum on energy savings with Al Franken

On Friday, my Council colleague Erica Zweifel and I (along with a St Olaf student who’s been helping with local commercial PACE program development – more about this below) went up to the St. Paul (Falcon Heights, actually) campus of the University of Minnesota for a forum on energy savings through the retrofitting programs available for Minnesota cities, counties and businesses.  The forum was sponsored by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment at the U, Senator Al Franken, MPCA, Urban Land Institute, Minnesota Waste Wise (a MN Chamber of Commerce affiliate program) and the Clean Energy Resource Team.

Erica has been leading efforts to establish a commercial PACE program in Northfield working with representatives from many of the groups above.  The Council agreed to put it on their workplan for 2012, so I’m looking forward to more discussion very soon.

How it works:

State law (adopted 2010) authorized local governments to “establish a program to finance energy improvements to enable owners of qualifying real property to pay for cost-effective energy improvements to the qualifying real property.”  Very briefly, if Northfield created such a program, a commercial property owner could secure financing for energy improvements through a local financial institution (or, alternatively, the city could issue revenue bonds); the loan would be repaid by a special assessment on property taxes.  PACE leverages the property tax collection system for repayment which can provide better rates and longer repayment terms.  Assuming private financing is used, there is no upfront cost to the city except setting up the process for the special assessments.

PACE and other programs aim to make retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency easier with an immediate positive impact on cash flow for business and government.  Northfield has the policy infrastructure directing us to move in this direction with the Comprehensive Plan, GreenStep Cities program, and the Energy Task Force plan.  Indeed, Northfield has already taken steps in this direction with the Johnson Controls contract initiated which is financed by the energy savings created by the improvements to various city facilities.

These are not just tree-hugging amenities: the goal for the building owner is long-term cost savings as well as creating jobs in the building trades/energy industries (yes, critics, this IS about economic development).

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