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Energize NY Program Explored in Workshop Session

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Energize NY Program Explored in Workshop Session

Thursday, February 12, 2015

An hour-long public workshop session today explored the Energize NY program, with a gathering made up mostly of Tompkins County and City of Ithaca officials participating in a telephone conference with Joe Del Sindaco of Energize NY Finance, the entity established by New York State to operate the State’s property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. 

The PACE program offers low-cost long-term financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, supporting up to the entire project cost, for owners of existing non-residential properties, with repayments collected by the municipality through a charge on the tax bill. Today’s session following briefings conducted here last November, including to the Legislature’s Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee.

 To offer this option for energy upgrades, a municipality with senior tax lien authority (such as the County or City of Ithaca) would approve the program, through local law, within its taxing jurisdiction and request to join, at no charge, the Energy Improvement Corporation (EIC), a not-for-profit Local Development Corporation.  The jurisdiction would also have to sign a related municipal agreement with the EIC, which is funded the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the U.S. Department of Energy, and revenue from the financings.  The initiative, Mr. Del Sindaco repeated today, would produce both environmental and economic benefits, through the improvements themselves and jobs created for the upgrade projects.

The charge would be considered tax lien, and several questioned how that would be handled and what could happen if a property went bankrupt and defaulted on its obligation.  Del Sindaco said a Loan Loss Reserve Fund would make the municipality whole in the unlikely case of default.

City of Ithaca Common Council member Cynthia Brock expressed some initial apprehension about the program, in light of what she sees as potential vulnerability of the City with its small size and limited properties diversity.  County Administrator Joe Mareane acknowledged some risk, but that it is small in light of past experience in recovering tax liabilities at auction.  Legislator Martha Robertson remarked, “I think this is a huge opportunity”…a way to “fix” existing properties without expending local funds.  “This is a new tool and we absolutely need it,” she said.

For Tompkins County, today’s in-depth discussion is the final step before beginning the process toward legislative authorization of the Energize program.  The matter will go through Legislature committee review, with drafting of a proposed local law and scheduling a public hearing, a process Administrator Mareane expects to take four to six weeks.