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'Green' upgrades by businesses are aim of county program

by Emily Walkenhorst | September 8, 2015 at 4:15 a.m.

A program facilitating energy efficiency and conservation projects in Pulaski County is starting this week, and its first participants could be decided in the next couple of months, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde said.

The Property-Assessed Clean Energy program could help businesses wanting to become energy efficient or work on conservation projects to secure loans by placing a tax lien on their property for up to 20 years or until the loan is paid back, Pulaski County senior staff attorney Adam Fogleman said.

"So it's a very secure loan," he said.

Currently, businesses may not be able to get loans for longer than a few years, making bigger projects like energy financing less feasible despite projected long-term savings.

To qualify for the county-wide program, an applicant must project saving more in energy costs than they project spending on the energy-efficiency upgrades.

No one can apply for the program just yet, however, county spokesman Jarrod Johnson said, because a program administrator has not been selected by the board.

The board, which was filled by county and city leaders at the end of August, will discuss the three administrator applicants at its first meeting today.

Administrator applicants include two Arkansas companies -- A2E2 and Jordan Inc. -- and Ygrene Energy Fund of Santa Rosa, Calif.

A2E2, also known as Arkansas Advanced Energy Equity, administers Fayetteville's energy improvement district; Jordan Inc. deals in real estate; and Ygrene Energy Fund has been involved in other property-assessed clean energy programs across the country.

The Fayetteville district board picked its first participant Aug. 25: Communities Unlimited of 3 East Colt Square. The nonprofit organization that focuses on sustainability and economic growth in seven southern states is upgrading some of its infrastructure and adding landscaping for $27,000. It projects saving $5,000 annually.

In Pulaski County, Hyde said he's heard interest from McCain Mall in North Little Rock, some businesses on Little Rock's Main Street looking into installing solar panels, a manufacturer in Jacksonville and a group involved in agricultural water projects. Hyde said $5 million was the highest cost estimate for one of the projects.

Residential properties are currently ineligible for such programs across the country because of opposition from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has argued that lenders for projects at residential properties could face problems in the event of a foreclosure or sale of the properties. The agency oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Association, and Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.

At the end of August, President Barack Obama called for the inclusion of residential properties in Property-Assessed Clean Energy programs "to make it easier for Americans to invest in clean energy technologies."

The projects can be funded in numerous ways, but are not funded by the county or cities.

"It's going to be funded at least initially by private capital," Fogleman said.

The program's board additionally does not guarantee loans. The board decides whether a project is feasible, then allows a participant to have a lien placed on the property involved until the loan is paid back. The participant pays back the loan through an attachment to property tax bills.

Pulaski County established the Property-Assessed Clean Energy program via a Quorum Court vote earlier this year, joining Little Rock and North Little Rock as local governments starting a program. Those cities have not established boards, however, and Hyde anticipates later incorporating them into the county's program.

Sherwood, Jacksonville and Maumelle have joined the county's program and assigned designees to the board earlier this summer.

Hyde said he proposed the program as a means of economic development and increasing environmental sustainability practices in the business community.

Advocates for energy efficiency projects have said they can create jobs, depending on the savings of a project.

"I'm just very excited about it," Hyde said.

Counties and cities were able to establish the Property-Assessed Clean Energy program after the Arkansas Legislature passed a law in 2013 allowing it.

Metro on 09/08/2015

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