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posted: 10/14/2019 5:30 AM

How Lake County will encourage energy-efficient projects

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Lake County officials want to help local business owners finance projects designed to boost energy efficiency.

The county board has announced plans to create a Property Assessed Clean Energy program. The effort will let owners of commercial buildings borrow money to install solar panels, erect wind turbines, improve insulation, add LED lighting or make other conservation-minded improvements.

An independent program administrator will link would-be borrowers with approved lenders. Once approved, the loans will become liens on the participating properties.

As such, the program will create no out-of-pocket costs for the county.

"The county wouldn't be lending funds directly, nor are (we) intending on issuing bonds to provide capital at this time," said Hannah Mulroy, the county's interim sustainability program manager.

As part of the program, the county would collect loan payments and interest over time through an assessment on the borrower's property tax bill to pay off the lien.

Lake County will receive a small fee from each financed project to offset the cost of whatever work the county staff incurs, Mulroy said.

The county board formally declared its intent to create the program with a vote last week. No timetable was announced.

Property Assessed Clean Energy programs already operate in Kane County, DuPage County and Chicago, as well as in 19 other states and Washington, D.C.

Under a state law enacted in 2017, the programs can offer financing to owners of commercial properties such as stores, offices, hotels and senior living complexes, as well as multifamily residential buildings with five or more units.

Single-family houses don't qualify.

Advocates say the projects benefiting from these loans improve businesses' energy efficiency, reduce operating costs and positively affect air quality. They also encourage business owners to invest locally and create jobs, advocates say.

"PACE is pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-environment -- all this at no additional cost to taxpayers," Sierra Club member Gloria Charland of Ingleside told the county board last week.

The next step for Lake County officials is requesting proposals from companies interested in administering the program. Programs in DuPage County and Kane County are run by a nonprofit group called the Illinois Energy Conservation Authority that specializes in Property Assessed Clean Energy efforts.

Before last week's vote, county board member Judy Martini urged officials to change the name of the program because there's already a suburban bus system called Pace.

"I think this is going to be confusing to people," said Martini, a Fox Lake Republican.

Energy and environment committee leader Terry Wilke, a Round Lake Beach Democrat, said officials plan to rename the financing program for that reason.

However, Lincolnshire Republican Ann Maine cautioned the board not to completely do away with the name because Property Assessed Clean Energy programs are part of a national effort using that moniker.