Commissioners approve energy- efficiency improvement program

Commissioners approves energy- efficiency improvement programProperty owners within Williamson County will be able to make energy-efficient improvements to their businesses through a new program enacted by the county in April.

Commissioners approved the Property Assessed Clean Energy program during a meeting April 5 that allows property owners to receive financing for energy-efficient projects and repay the lender through annual assessments to their property tax bill.

A third party acts as a liaison between the property owner and a lender but the county would not have any financial role in the process, Commissioner Cynthia Long said.

“It’s sort of a win-win overall. There’s no taxpayer dollars at all utilized in the program, and there’s no government liability so there’s no risk to the taxpayers,” she said. “We are just allowing the assessment to be placed on the property at the request of the business owner or the landowner.”

Long said property owners have needs for loans for energy-efficient upgrades, such as installing better heating and air conditioning units or LED lighting. However, she said those projects were not often pursued by private owners in the past because of a long-term return on investment for the equipment. Through the program, she said the property owner voluntarily requests an assessment on his or her property, which allows the owner to stretch the payment period out over a longer period of time.

“It has the opportunity to really be a great economic development tool because it allows existing businesses to do improvements to their properties that makes financial sense to them,” Long said.

Lenders would also be more likely to issue longer-term loans for the improvements because they have a guarantee of an assessment against the property, she said.

The Texas Legislature originally passed the program in 2013, which allowed counties and municipalities to approve use of the program in their respective jurisdiction. Williamson County’s only involvement would be to acknowledge the assessment against an owner’s property, Long said.

She said the county considered the program in 2013, though she began working on bringing PACE to the county after Simon Property Group, which owns Barton Creek Mall in Travis County as well as Lakeline Mall and the Round Rock Premium Outlets in Williamson County, approached her and requested the program.

Ed Sayers, the vice president of energy and sustainable practice with Simon Property Group, told commissioners March 8 the company would use the program for energy improvements at Lakeline Mall and the Round Rock Premium Outlets. He estimated the company would save around 1 million gallons of water every year with water conservation improvements to Lakeline Mall and said it could expect a 20 to 60 percent reduction in electricity costs.

Sayers said the company will concentrate on making improvements to the operations and infrastructure to its properties, including upgrades for water conservation, new lighting and a better heating and air conditioning system. He said it would normally make those improvements over a 10- to 15-year time period, but financing from the PACE program will allow for improvements in about one year.

“So we can see the immediate savings and impact to our bottom line, which is good for everybody—it’s good for us, it’s good for our tenants since we lower operating costs,” he said. “At the same time we’re engaging the community, we’re engaging local contractors and architects, and they’ll come help us put that all together.”

Sayers told the commissioners the company would be able to pay for the improvements with the money it will save on energy costs due to efficient equipment.

“Between energy savings—electric, water, gas—along with any repair or maintenance that we would avoid over the next few years, the numbers truly work for us,” he said.