Orange Selectboard votes to join state clean energy program

  • Orange Town Hall by night. Staff FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/20/2019 10:19:02 PM
Modified: 12/20/2019 10:18:48 PM

ORANGE — The town decreases its energy consumption, business owners can make energy upgrades and the state, paying for it all, will give 20 years for the money to be paid back.

It’s a win-win-win.

Next year, Orange business owners will have the chance to apply to join a new program to receive financing for comprehensive energy-efficiency projects.

The Orange Selectboard voted this week for the town to participate in the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, known as “PACE.”

Alec Wade, the town’s community development director, who was hired last month, brought the idea before the Selectboard. He said the program is not yet widely understood, but participation is not reliant on a Town Meeting vote, and other participating towns include Greenfield, Gardner, Northampton, Pittsfield, Acton and Amesbury.

The PACE program is one of MassDevelopment’s key initiatives as the state’s finance and development authority, with the goal to provide energy improvements to commercial and industrial buildings, as well as multi-family buildings with more than five units.

“It’s an advantage to the community in that it helps our business community,” said Selectboard Vice Chair Jane Peirce. “They don’t have to go to the bank or take out a loan, which could affect their equity. And payments are over (up to 20) years, so they’re low.”

Essentially, it’s a loan program, Peirce said. Property owners may apply for energy upgrades financed through PACE. If accepted, they agree to a betterment assessment — basically, increased property taxes — on their property, which pays back the financing over a period of up to 20 years. If the property is sold, a lien stays with the property so money is paid back by subsequent property owners.

The PACE program finances energy improvements and energy-efficiency projects, including projects involving renewable energy and gas line extensions.

According to Peirce, the program will cost the town very little, if anything, and the benefits to businesses will outweigh any managerial duties by the town. Improvements to properties must be permanent, and can increase property values, while decreasing operating costs and energy compensation.

The town’s main role is to act as the collectors of payments.

MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources administer the PACE program, which was unrolled this year but was part of an energy legislation package Gov. Charlie Baker signed in 2016. Financing is expected to be determined and available in early 2020.

Wade said although the program is new with more to be understood, he is “comfortable” with Orange’s involvement.

“At no point did I come across any fee that goes to the town for administrative costs,” Wade said. “The only work outside of the collection process — we do have to do the yearly collection process for it — but outside of that, the only work I was notified of is the actual going out assessing the lien and the betterment.”

Peirce said she is pleased the PACE program was brought to the Selectboard’s attention after Wade has only been on the job for a month.

Orange has not always had a community development director. The position was created at Annual Town Meeting in June, when the treasurer and town administrator positions were combined to free up money for a community development director’s salary.

Wade, selected as one of two final applicants for the position, then hired in November, was specifically tasked with providing advantages to local businesses and looking for ways to make Orange more attractive to outside businesses. Joining the PACE program satisfies that job description.

“I’m very pleased with his work,” Peirce said. “It is thorough and he shows great attention to detail.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.


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