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Energy upgrades now easier for commercial properties

SOLANA BEACH — Financing energy-efficient improvements will be a little easier for Solana Beach commercial property owners after council members unanimously agreed at the March 26 meeting to participate in the Figtree PACE financing program.

State laws passed a few years ago authorize a legislative body to designate an area in which public officials and property owners can enter into voluntary agreements to finance the installation of permanent renewable energy, energy- and water-efficient upgrades and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Financing for these improvements is known as PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy. In 2010, Solana Beach was one of the first cities to join the statewide PACE program, which ultimately was slow to develop.

Last year council agreed to join the HERO PACE program that was launched in Riverside County.

Although that program offers financing for residential and commercial properties, it focuses primarily on the former.

Figtree provides a program primarily for commercial properties. It is offered through the California Enterprise Development Authority, in which more than 80 cities and counties participate. Almost 50 take part in Figtree.

Participation is completely voluntary. If a commercial property owner chooses to take advantage of the program, the installed improvements are financed with bonds secured by a contractual assessment levied on the property.

There is no liability or risk to the city, Danny King, the city’s environmental programs manager, said.

The amount borrowed is repaid through property taxes.

Improvements include heating and air conditioning, cool roofs, tankless water heaters, outside irrigation, insulation, window filming, solar thermal systems for hot water or pool heating, low-flush toilets and photovoltaic systems.

Like the HERO program for residential, Figtree is nonexclusive, so other viable PACE programs can operate in Solana Beach.

The city is not precluded from implementing other programs.

According to the staff report, other competing programs “would provide greater options and potentially greater benefits” to property owners.

“You’re not prohibited from seeking financing elsewhere,” Mayor Tom Campbell said. “So if we adopt these resolutions we’re not really promoting this.

We’re just authorizing this as an additional means of a financing opportunity.”

“It’s just another option for the citizens of this community to exercise, if they so choose,” City Manager David Ott added. “The city does have to adopt it for them to have the opportunity.”

Ott said property owners may find better interest rates elsewhere.

“There’s a vast array of things that you can finance through this that sometimes you can’t through other financing mechanisms,” he added. “So there’s advantages and disadvantages, and people can weigh those and make the best decision for themselves.”

Participants must be credit worthy. Unlike the HERO program, there is no maximum that can be borrowed through Figtree but financing is only available for the life of the product, King said.