After public discussion and a thorough review process over three meetings, the City Council, at their December 3 meeting, voted 5-1 to join the Energize New York’s Energy Improvement Corporation (EIC).
By Bill Lawyer
After public discussion and a thorough review process over three meetings, the City Council, at their December 3 meeting, voted 5-1 to join the Energize New York’s Energy Improvement Corporation (EIC). Councilwoman Kirstin Bucci cast the lone ‘no’ vote. Councilman Richard Mecca was not in attendance.
Before the matter was called to a vote, Councilwoman Killian said that, while she had objections to the law’s introductory phrases concerning greenhouse gasses and climate change, she was comfortable with the law itself. She called on EIC’s Elyssa Rothe, who was present at the meeting, to verify that the Council could, after the law was enacted, limit its eligibility to nonprofits. Rothe responded that the Council could indeed do that.
Councilwoman Laura Brett then asked about moving the membership and funding application process forward to be eligible for the County’s special funds. Rothe said that the EIC would work closely with Wainwright House, the organization that brought the program to the City’s attention, and the City to make the deadline.
When the proposal was put to a roll call vote, Councilwoman Bucci stated that she was voting against it because of her on-going “on the hook” concerns, and because she felt that handling loan repayments was not one of a city’s “core services”.
The Council then voted to limit the program to not-for-profits. They noted that they could, however, open the program to for-profits if they chose to do so at a later time.
Back at their November 5 Council meeting, Robert Fischman, the Energize New York Director of Commercial Programs, delivered a detailed presentation of the program to the Council and public.
The program, he explained, enables commercial for-profit or nonprofit property holders to receive low cost, long-term financing for energy efficiency improvements. To be eligible, the City must become a member of the Energy Improvement Corporation, by enacting a local law setting up the program.
The Energize New York initiative established by the State is relatively new. But the same or similar programs have been in operation for several years in Connecticut and other states. Fischman noted that the financing method involved was entitled Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE); and that the repayment of clean energy loans would be handled through the municipalities’ tax collection procedures.
The proposal to open a public hearing on the project was put on Rye’s “front burner” when the Wainwright board learned of the program. If Wainwright’s financing proposal is submitted by January 16, 2015, they will be eligible for up to 70% lower interest rates. This extra support comes from the County’s earmarking of $8 million toward the program.
Fishman’s presentation was followed up by questions from Councilwoman Killian, as well as comments from Wainwright Director Peggy Hill. City Court Judge Joe Latwin, speaking as a resident, expressed his concern about the unknown financial risks that might be involved for the City and any tax revenue implications. He shared his philosophical opposition to government sponsorship of commercial enterprises.
The Council then voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing for their November 19 meeting. After opening that hearing, Mayor Sack invited Rothe to explain both the general elements and details of the program.
Among the points she made in her presentation were: loans could include up to 100% financing of eligible energy efficiency improvements; the loan repayment could go from five to 20 years, as opposed to a 15-year maximum by regular financial institutions; the process provided for getting well-prepared proposals through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); and the entire project would be managed through the staff of Energize New York.
Rothe stressed the many benefits that this program has for the entire City of Rye, not just the institutions receiving the loan. These include “green collar” jobs for local consultants and contractors, the institution having more money to put toward improving their operations, along with improved air quality and the reduction of the City’s energy footprint.
Mayor Sack asked Rothe why the City needed to be involved in this process. She replied that the handling of the loan repayments would be through the City’s property tax collecting process. Several Council members then directed their questions to what the realistic risks for the City would be if they were join the EIC, especially would they be “on-the-hook.” Rothe noted that the EIC has set up a fund that would reimburse the City if an enterprise defaults.
Mayor Sack said emails were going around suggesting that there was no cost to Rye for joining the EIC. There are risks involved, he said, since “risk is a cost.”
Rothe responded that the entire application process and monitoring is carried out by the EIC. And, as to default, she added that the rigorous vetting process would weed out any institutions that weren’t able to carry out their financial obligation.
Mayor Sack then invited Judy Martin, Wainwright Board member and professional energy efficiency consultant, to the podium. She described the steps they have taken to identify and estimate energy cost savings.
Wainwright Board President Carol Craig urged passage of the law, not just for Wainwright, but also for other non-profit institutions that could greatly benefit from the low-cost, long-term financing.
Carolyn Cunningham, speaking on behalf of the unanimous consensus of the Conservation Commission/Advisory Council (CCAC) and Sustainability Committee, also urged the Council pass the law.