‘C-PACE’ energy financing approved by town meeting

Energy-efficiency upgrades — solar panels, insulated windows, better boilers, reflective roofs — should be easier to finance for commercial and multifamily buildings in Ridgefield, with the town now in the Connecticut Property Assessed Clean Energy Program.

Town participation in “C-PACE,” as the program is usually called, was unanimously approved by special Town Meeting of about 20 Ridgefielders Feb. 21.

The program allows owners of commercial property — including multifamily buildings with five or more units — to access financing through a program administered by the state-backed Connecticut Green Bank. The loans are available from the Green Bank and also a number of private lenders that participate in the program. The town tax collector’s office handles the loan repayments.

The Green Bank reviews planned projects to see that the projected energy savings are realistic, and the money saved can be expected to equal or exceed loan repayment costs.

A few people spoke in support of the program at a public hearing that immediately preceded the Town Meeting.

“There is legitimate interest from town of Ridgefield businesses,” said Rob Freeman, a co-chairman of the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment (RACE), which had lobbied the selectmen to join C-PACE.

“We are one of the businesses interested in the program,” said Briggs Tobin, chief financial officer of Ridgefield Academy.

“We think it’s a way to reduce our carbon footprint,” he said. “Good for the environment, and good for business.”

In January, Tobin told the selectmen Ridgefield Academy was considering an energy-efficiency project in the $500,000 range, with C-PACE financing.

Dwayne Escola also supported the program, which can benefit not only consumers but also providers of energy-efficiency projects.

“I have a solar company here in town,” he said.

Some concerns about C-PACE had been explored at a couple of Board of Selectmen meetings leading up to the Town Meeting.

One worry was the town’s role in collecting payments. But Tax Collector Jane Berendsen Hill had sent a letter to the board saying she didn’t object to town participation.

The night of the Town Meeting, Selectman Bob Hebert still seemed a little uneasy.

“So long as we’ve done our due diligence,” he said. “Just not 100% comfortable with the financing structure.”

A slight amendment to the agreement was made at the Town Meeting, to address another concern Hebert had previously raised. The wording no longer says the town “shall” make a good faith effort to assist the Green Bank in marketing the program, but says it may “choose” to assist with marketing efforts.

“The municipality didn’t want to be obligated,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi explained.

Selectman Steve Zemo said he, like Hebert, had been skeptical at first — but he’s become more comfortable with the program.

“Overall, when we went through all the variables, it’s good for the town,” Zemo said.

Connecticut has had C-PACE since 2012 and 129 of Connecticut’s 169 towns participate. Twenty states have similar programs — and another 13 are considering legislation.