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.