Bills filed for the 2021 Legislative Session would make a number of changes to the property assessed clean energy (PACE) program, but one provision has already proved popular among local governments.
HB 387 by Rep. Randy Fine and SB 1208 by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would add consumer protections to PACE loans, a financing vehicle that helps property owners pay for home upgrades, such as hurricane resiliency, solar panels or more efficient insulation.
The bills would also allow consumers to pay for septic-to-sewer conversions with PACE financing. That provision has caught the attention of some local governments, which see PACE as a way to make progress on septic-to-sewer conversions without breaking the bank or relying on a windfall from Tallahassee.
Septic-to-sewer conversions would help cut down on the volume of nutrients such as nitrogen leaching into the state’s waterways and contributing to algal blooms.
Florida’s septic crisis is nothing new and expanding PACE to help consumers who choose to convert do so affordably is in line with the environmental priorities of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
Lawmakers are also looking to accelerate conversions. So far, lawmakers have filed about two dozen appropriations requests totaling nearly $130 million for septic-to-sewer conversions. SB 1208 could allow the marketplace to respond to these requests for taxpayer funding.
Those requests represent a small fraction of the conversions needed — according to the Florida Department of Health, septic tanks service the wastewater needs of three in 10 Floridians and one out of eight septic tanks in the U.S. is in Florida.
Current septic-to-sewer programs are inundated with requests. DEP’s Septic Upgrade Incentive Program, for example, no longer accepts applications because of lack of funding.
The program’s footprint covers only nine counties — Citrus, Hernando, Leon, Marion, Orange, Pasco, Seminole, Volusia or Wakulla — identified by DEP as “Priority Focus Areas” for amounts up to $10,000 per system. In a tight budget year, it’s unlikely the Legislature will reup the funding.
Without an effective statewide solution, some counties and municipalities are looking for ways in their already limited local budgets to cover the cost.
Miami-Dade, for instance, has passed resolutions in recent months urging the Legislature to expand PACE to include septic-to-sewer conversions and have cited it as an incentive to pass local PACE legislation.
The PACE modernization have not yet been heard in committee, though the Senate bill is set to go before the Community Affairs Committee when it meets at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
The House bill is awaiting a hearing in the Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee.