Joining state Green Bank program heads to town meeting Wednesday

A program encouraging renewable energy projects by making low-interest loans available to commercial property owners will come before Ridgefielders for consideration next week.

A public hearing and town meeting authorizing Ridgefield to join the Connecticut Green Bank’s C-PACE program is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 in town hall.

The Connecticut Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program describes itself as designed to help “building owners access affordable, long-term financing for qualifying clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades that can lower energy costs.”

It is operated by the Connecticut Green Bank, set up by the state legislature in 2012 to foster the state’s marketplace for energy-efficiency improvements.

The selectmen discussed the program Jan. 3 and again Jan. 31, when they voted to send the matter to a public hearing and town meeting.

Representatives of Ridgefield Academy attended both meetings, saying the private school hoped to take advantage of financing available through the program if the town did participate.

“We’re interested in the program to reduce our carbon footprint,” Ridgefield Academy CFO Briggs Tobin said Jan. 3. “This allows us to take advantage of a state program which reduces our energy costs.”

He said Ridgefield Academy planned a project in the $500,000 range, and was hoping to offset a sizable portion of the cost by taking advantage of incentives offered by utility companies.

Elizabeth DiSalvo, a local architect, told the selectmen Jan. 3 that the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment (RACE) supported C-PACE as advancing environmental stewardship by reducing energy consumption. She also said state utilities would benefit.

“One of the end goals of this,” she said, “if you can get enough companies to do this, it greatly reduces the load on the grid.”

Failure to repay?

The selectmen still had concerns, mostly about involving the town in collection of repayments to the Green Bank.

Nicholas Zuba of the Connecticut Green Bank told the selectmen at their Jan. 31 meeting that the town wouldn’t be responsible for private debtors’ failure to repay.

“Bottom line is, we’re not going to hold the town accountable,” Zuba said. “Having to make us whole, if a payment didn’t come in— that’s not your responsibility.”

The town would receive a $500 stipend from the Green Bank for its assistance in administering the program.

If a property that owed money to C-PACE went into foreclosure, the selectmen were told, the Connecticut Green Bank would be second in line for money — behind the town’s property taxes, although ahead of town collections for things like sewer charges.

At the Jan. 31 meeting, First Selectman Rudy Marconi read a letter from town Tax Collector Jane Berendsen Hill, saying she didn’t foresee problems with town participation.

Zuba told the selectmen that 128 of Connecticut’s 169 towns were taking part in the C-PACE program.

After the selectmen voted to send the proposal to a town meeting, they were thanked by Ben Oko of RACE.

“We’re very pleased you’re going forward with this,” Oko said. “We think it’s an important part of bringing solar to the town.”