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Happy Earth Day Indeed! $10 Million for Energy Efficiency Grants

April 22, 2010

By Mike Villarreal

Congrats to San Antonio and Austin for each winning $10 million energy efficiency grants. As I said on KUT in Austin, they can use the money to implement our PACE bill to provide loans for property owners to cover the upfront cost of energy improvements. You can listen to the segment here, or read below.

Texas legislators passed a law last session that allowed cities to lend money to people who wanted to do energy upgrades on their homes.

Austin Energy's Karl Rabago says the financing was structured so that people would start saving money the second the installation was finished.

"The idea is that a customer could finance an energy efficiency improvement, say a major air conditioner replacement, and stretch it out over the number of years that equipment is expected to last," Rabago told KUT News in a telephone interview.

But there were some roadblocks to funding the program. On Wednesday, the federal government removed one of them. The Obama administration announced $452 million nationwide in green energy stimulus funds. Austin is slated to receive $10 million.

"This is a jolt of extra electricity, if you will, to get us moving even faster in the program," Rabago said.

It's welcome news for people in the energy efficiency business, especially because the city's solar rebate program ran out of money last month. Rob McPherson is the Central Texas manager for Standard Renewable Energy, an energy efficiency contractor.

"There's some backlog of customers and residents out there that would like to put solar energy systems in place," McPherson said. "The PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) financing certainly has the ability to enable those customers to move forward."

The author of the Texas law, San Antonio Democrat Mike Villarreal, admits there are some issues to be ironed out in the next session. For example, he wants cities to have more authority to collect from people who default on their loans.

"Right now it's with a lien, but with a lien that gets in line with all other liens," he said. "It does not have priority. And what we need to do is give it priority to be on the same level as paying taxes."

Austin Energy is finalizing the details on its PACE program. A roll out is still several months away.

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