Randy Fine bill aims to make waterways — and loan terms — crystal clear

Randy Fine
It would expand PACE to environmental mitigation projects, with consumer protections.

Rep. Randy Fine has a bill that would kill two birds with one stone.

HB 387 would help improve water quality by allowing property owners to take out loans through the Property Assessed Clean Energy program for environmental mitigation projects such as septic-to-sewer conversions or advanced on-site wastewater treatment systems.

The Property Assessed Clean Energy program, better known as PACE, is a financing vehicle that allows consumers to pay back the cost of the upgrades through assessments on their property tax bill. As the name implies, the program is mostly geared toward energy efficiency upgrades such as solar panel installation, though storm hardening projects also qualify.

“Everyone in Brevard County wants a clean Indian River Lagoon, but for years, my constituents have told me they don’t simply have thousands of dollars laying around to connect their home to a sewer line or upgrade their septic tank. HB 387 will allow those consumers to obtain special, secured loans, often at discounted interest rates, to help them finance these critical projects, which will benefit every one of us,” the Palm Bay Republican said.

“During my four years in the Legislature, I have brought home millions in state funding for lagoon improvements, freed up tens of millions of dollars in available local financing, and dramatically increased the penalties on local politicians who dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways. This bill represents the next step in that journey to save our precious lagoon by making it easier and cheaper for property owners who want to do the right thing.”

While PACE funding has helped many Floridians improve their homes and reduce their carbon footprint, it hasn’t gone without criticism.

The chief complaint is a lack of financial literacy among borrowers, not through any fault of their own — the financing is simply different from car, home or other loan types that consumers are more familiar with. The lack of understanding has resulted in some borrowers getting a rude awakening when their tax bill arrives.

Fine’s bill addresses that with a suite of consumer protections.

The front-facing protections include standardized financial disclosures that clearly spell out payment terms; require lenders to get oral confirmation that the borrower understands the terms; and mandates a product completion certificate before money changes hands.

The bill would also give borrowers three days to back out of the deal, similar to the rescission rights for other major purchases.

On the lender side, PACE administrators must develop criteria showing borrowers can afford the financing; do their due diligence before approving contractors; and ban sales agents from making any misleading statements.

Though the list of regulations is long, the bill debuted with strong support from Ygrene Energy Fund — one of the major players in PACE financing.

“This legislation will significantly improve an already tremendously successful policy to ensure its lasting impact and availability for years to come. It ensures PACE remains a strong, viable program by further protecting consumers, safeguarding properties, and giving homeowners peace of mind when making essential property upgrades. We look forward to continuing our important work with the Florida Legislature,” Ygrene CEO Jim Reinhart said.

The bill also jibes with Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ shared vision on environmental policy. The presiding officers took a strong stance on combating sea-level rise and protecting Florida’s coastline in a joint op-ed last year.

Their message: “Through careful planning and strong partnerships, Florida can be a national example of resilient communities, where water remains an engine that drives our state’s prosperity and the only things the rising tide does is to lift all boats.”

By coupling accessible financing with consumer protections, Fine’s bill has the potential to be such a partnership.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


  • stel

    January 22, 2021 at 10:31 pm

    Number 6 on page 9 is about health and environmental hazards and improvement to mitigate harmful health and environmental hazard to property occupants, including measures or improvement that mitigate or remove: the presence of lead, heavy metals, polyfluoralkl (spelled wrong in the bill: polyfluoralkyl is the correct spelling and there are many other compounds of PFAS) substance contamination, or other harmful contaminants in potable water systems. Improvements include converting well water to municipal water systems, replacement of lead water service lines, or installation of water filters. Does this mean the burden of cost for PFAS contamination in Florida will be put on the people to get a loan and fix it?

  • Scott Carmody

    January 23, 2021 at 10:13 am

    Smoke and mirrors at the expense of Florida citizens! Homeowners should not be force to go in debt spending thousands of dollars to “upgrade” to advanced on-site wastewater treatment systems or connecting to sewer. Brevard County, FDEP and FDOH data shows that these types of projects will have little to no impact on reducing household sewage nitrogen to our waters. If Rep. Fine wants to save our waters, he should start taking a serious look at “all” the data on the subject and refrain from forcing Florida citizens in debt because of a lack of understanding of the problem. It’s time we start addressing this problem with the actual facts, not the misleading and carefully crafted statements designed to push agendas at the expense of Florida citizens pocket book.

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