Commissioners sign agreement to encourage energy improvements to commercial buildings | Local News

The Charles County Board of Commissioners has signed a memorandum of understanding with Maryland Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (MD-PACE) to administer the county’s program for encouraging property owners to install clean and renewable energy systems in the county’s commercial buildings. The program is expected to create jobs and attract new businesses to the county.

MD-PACE encourages property owners to install systems that improve energy efficiency and take advantage of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. In exchange for paying for the renovations up front using private capital, the property owners can recoup their investment as a voluntary, long-term surcharge on the property’s tax bill.

The surcharge, which is similar to those added for sewer and water lines, makes energy upgrades more affordable, reduces energy and operating costs, and improves the overall value of the building.

“When we first heard about the program, we recognized immediately that this was a win-win for everybody,” said Marcia Keeth, deputy director of economic development for the Charles County Economic Development Department. “It helps the environment, it helps spur and facilitate commercial investment, and it helps create jobs. We think it’s a terrific program.”

“Clean energy is something that benefits the community in many ways,” Keeth said. “It not only makes us a lot healthier, but from an economic development perspective, it increases investment in our commercial buildings and properties, and it offers an acceptable way for property owners to make the investment to upgrade their properties for more clean energy features.”

“Whether it’s installing new HVAC systems or installing solar panels or even improved lighting, our local contractors are getting more opportunities to get more jobs here locally,” Keeth added.

Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) was an early advocate for the program. “After working closely with this project, I am pleased our board passed the ordinance for local entrepreneurs and building owners to participate in the Property Assessed Clean Energy program,” Robinson said in a press release. “The program will provide a great opportunity to further advance our county’s energy efficiency and economic growth.”

The Maryland General Assembly passed statewide legislation for the C-PACE program in 2014. That legislation required individual counties to pass enabling ordinances in order to implement the program locally. The Charles County commissioners passed the enabling ordinance last September, but by signing the agreement with MD-PACE, the program can now get started in earnest.

So far, 12 counties in Maryland have passed PACE enabling legislation.

MD-PACE was established in 2015 to help individual counties craft and pass ordinances and to implement the program locally. It is a partnership between the Maryland Clean Energy Center in Annapolis and PACE Financial Servicing, a national organization that helps states launch similar programs across the country. MD-PACE also administers the financing programs of several counties.

Charles County is the first county in Southern Maryland to pass an enabling ordinance to permit businesses to take advantage of the option to recoup financing through property tax surcharges.

“We applaud Charles County for being a leader in making this financing model available to property owners in the county,” said Katherine Magruder, executive director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center. “Charles County has an inventory of commercial property and not-for-profit and multi-tenant housing units that could benefit from this. We think the commissioners were forward thinking and will set an example for the region.”

Gerard Neely, manager of Maryland commercial PACE programs at PACE Financial Servicing, says that the program helps fill a crucial gap. “Fortune 500 companies, giants like Walmart and Amazon, and institutions like governments and hospitals have had the most access to capital for energy efficiency and renewable projects,” Neely said. “What PACE really helps to do is get that in-between market, which is the vast majority of commercial real estate in the country.”

“We’re talking about manufacturing facilities, industrial facilities, retail strips, and office buildings,” Neely said. “Those are the types of markets and sub-markets of commercial real estate that benefit from PACE.”

Neely notes that the average age of a commercial building in the United States is 40 years, and many of HVAC systems, boilers, and roofs are nearing the end of their intended lifespans.

“We recognize that after rent and salaries, energy costs are right up there as business expenses,” Neely said. “PACE is a way to help these business owners to save money on their energy and to structure these projects in a more economical way.”

The county economic development department plans to host a series of informational sessions targeted at commercial property owners, contractors and capital providers. The meetings are tentatively scheduled to begin in late September or early October, but the details are still being worked out.

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