The Frederick News Post: County launches program to help businesses invest in renewable energy

Posted by on October 17, 2017

County launches program to help businesses invest in renewable energy

Bar-T Mountainside Summer Camp near Urbana has been pre-approved to be the first business in Frederick County to install solar panels through a new state- and county-backed financing model.

Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Loans — known as PACE — help businesses pay for equipment that will reduce their energy consumption and costs through loans attached to the property rather than the business owner.

The County Council unanimously approved legislation for a commercial clean-energy loan program in November 2016, and local businesses have been waiting for the county to reach an agreement with a third-party loan financier ever since.

On Monday, County Executive Jan Gardner announced the official launch of PACE in Frederick County.

“PACE is a smart tool to help Frederick County build our sustainable economy while supporting a growing technology industry,” Gardner said during her announcement.

Commercial, industrial, agricultural and not-for-profit businesses will be able to access this new funding model to install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency upgrades to their buildings.

Joe Richardson, owner of Bar-T, repeatedly asked the county to be the first business to use the program to install solar panels at a new community center on his campus. The center was built with sustainability in mind, with geothermal heated floors, composting toilets, energy-efficient compressed wood chip and foam walls, and a large wood-burning fireplace.

The crowning piece will be adding solar panels to the roof, making it an emissions-neutral facility.

“We wanted to make a building that was very energy-efficient, but also almost self-sufficient,” Richardson previously told The Frederick News-Post.

TimberRock Energy Solutions — also a Frederick County business — helped Richardson make an “energy master plan” for Bar-T, which will include adding 73 kilowatts of new solar panels and three battery backup systems across the campus, said Fred Ugast, founder and president of TimberRock. Multiple buildings on the property will be tied together with an energy management system.

Companies such as TimberRock and smaller contractors will also benefit from PACE’s launch in Frederick County by creating a new demand for their services as project proposals enter the pipeline and financing is approved.

“We believe it’s going to be an important tool in the toolbox of many businesses in Frederick County, because it solves a very real problem for our commercial business owners to get financing,” Ugast said during Gardner’s announcement.

PACE lengthens the payback period to 20 years, which is longer than that of a typical commercial loan. The loan is paid annually as part of the property’s tax bill, so each county had to pass a local ordinance accepting the financing program, because taxes are collected on the county level.

State legislation allowing PACE was passed in 2014, and the Maryland Clean Energy Center has been working with PACE Financial Servicing since December 2014 to enable the legislation at the county level — Frederick County was the 12th in the state to enable PACE.

Katherine Magruder, executive director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center, met Richardson in 2009. Even then, Richardson had a broad vision for what he wanted to see Bar-T’s campus transformed into, and he was looking for advice on how to finance it, she said.

“He’s been on it ever since, and I really applaud that his tenacity got to this place,” Magruder said.

TimberRock anticipates Bar-T’s new system to offset over 161,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 10 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 67 pounds of nitrogen oxide each year.

So far in 2017, there have been 11 projects completed in Maryland totaling nearly $5 million using PACE financing, said Gerard Neely, who manages commercial PACE projects in Maryland for PACE Financial Servicing. All the projects have been to improve energy efficiency.

Neely estimated that two or three other businesses in Frederick County are actively considering using PACE to make improvements to their properties at this time.

“This is a ready-to-go program now in your county, and you should be able to pull the trigger and start saving money in the energy space,” Magruder said.

Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.

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