As a fly-fishing guide in Gardiner, my business is wholly dependent on responsible stewardship of our land, air and water. People travel from across the globe to experience the splendor of Montana’s natural wonders. Outdoor recreation generates over $7 billion in consumer spending and creates more than 71,000 jobs. Caring for our greatest natural assets doesn’t just keep Montana beautiful, it strengthens our economy. This legislative session, we have an opportunity to extend this proud Montana tradition of growing our business sector through smart conservation policies. Senate Bill 245, The Commercial Property-Assessed Clean Energy Act of Montana (C-PACE), will create jobs, conserve energy and save money. Better yet, it applies to all businesses, not just those in the outdoor recreation and tourism industries.
C-PACE is a financing tool that allows commercial property owners to secure 100 percent upfront private financing for energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy upgrades. Agricultural, industrial, multifamily and nonprofit properties are all eligible. C-PACE is a successful tool being implemented across the country. Thirty-six states have already enabled it, and Montana should join them in 2019.
I own a shop for my fly-fishing business and separately, a bed and breakfast. Both buildings are sturdy and well-built, but they are older structures that could benefit greatly from upgrades in insulation and other energy-saving improvements. I know that making these improvements would save me bucks in the long run, but securing the upfront funding is a challenge. C-PACE would eliminate that barrier, allowing me to invest in my properties to help my bottom line immediately while supporting local contractors and stimulating Montana’s economy.
C-PACE is modeled on a tried and true method that municipalities have used for decades. It works like a Special Improvement District for sidewalks or sewers. The financing is repaid as an assessment on the property’s regular tax bill for up to 20 years. What is different about C-PACE is that it’s completely voluntary. Only individual property owners receiving the upgrades are assessed for the cost, not everyone in the district. It simply gives individuals the option to consider this financial tool if they choose.
The reason C-PACE has succeeded throughout the United States is because it’s designed to save money from day one. Properties only qualify for the program if an energy audit determines they will save more on their utility bills than they would owe on their annual assessment. From a business perspective, this makes C-PACE especially attractive.
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C-PACE has already garnered bipartisan support from over a dozen legislators across the state because it’s just good, common-sense legislation. It’s a public-private partnership, using private capital from banks and investors. Montana lenders are ready to participate once C-PACE is enabled by law.
In short, we can hit the ground running with C-PACE. We can start helping business owners become more profitable almost overnight. We can create jobs and stimulate new innovations in the energy and construction sectors. We can help farmers and ranchers invest in cost-saving measures, making them more resilient to the uncertainties of unpredictable weather and shifting markets. We can free up funds for churches, so that more of their resources can be focused on improving their communities instead of paying high energy bills. Business owners can hire new employees with the money saved on utility costs, which will build on the jobs created by contractors doing the work of property upgrades. All the while, we will be saving energy and improving the comfort and durability of properties across the state.
Let’s conserve energy while growing our economy, Montana. Let’s pick up the PACE in 2019 by passing Senate Bill 245.
Richard Parks is a member of Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture organization. He is the owner of Parks’ Fly Shop and the Gardiner Guest House Bed & Breakfast in Gardiner.