County eying clean energy program

Interest in a state clean energy program is slowly picking up in Cameron County, according to local officials.

Business owners, contractors and manufacturers have all expressed interest in the Texas Property-Assessed Clean Energy program and a few companies have started considering projects, said Charlene Heydinger, executive director of Keeping PACE in Texas.

Once those projects begin, economic development will be easily observable, she said.

“PACE eliminates the barriers for business owners to invest in their property. … They can fix their equipment and replace it,” Heydinger said. “Someone has to manufacture that equipment, someone has to distribute it, someone has to install it, someone has to feed those workers, so jobs get created. It’s more than just having buildings fixed up.”

PACE addresses a common problem for businesses, small or large: keeping up with utility costs and improvements.

It has the added bonus of helping commercial properties conserve energy.

A state law authorizes municipalities and counties in Texas to work with private sector lenders and property owners to finance qualified improvement projects.

“PACE is an innovative financing program that enables owners of commercial and industrial properties to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for water conservation, energy-efficiency improvements, and renewable retrofits,” the program’s website states.

“The term of a PACE loan may extend up to 20 years, resulting in utility cost savings that exceed the amount of the assessment payment.”

Businesses still need to wait for Cameron County to appoint an official administrator for the program, said David Garcia, county administrator.

“We’ll be considering an interlocal agreement between the county and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council at the next meeting so they can administer and run the program,” Garcia said.

Garcia said commissioners have previously voiced their support for the program and does not expect there to be opposition.

“It’s just another way to try to help small businesses in investing and taking care of their assets,” he said.

The LRGV Council has done some education outreach since August, including a three-day conference, presentations and meeting with various chambers and economic development councils, Heydinger said.

“It’s a new tool to the marketplace that we have to teach people about, but once they know they can take advantage of it, we really think it will take off,” Heydinger said. “The worst thing that happens is that nobody uses it.”