A bill aimed at speeding up septic-to-sewer conversions cleared another Senate committee and took on a new name.
SB 1208 by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would expand property assessed clean energy, or PACE, financing to cover wastewater treatment improvements and septic-to-sewer conversion, in addition to the suite of projects currently in the program.
An amendment adopted in the Senate Finance and Tax Committee would also chuck the PACE acronym in favor of REEF, which is short for Resiliency Energy Environment Florida
The new name is intended to reflect the expanded scope of the program.
Septic-to-sewer conversions, while aimed cleaning up waterways, have little to do with energy. And many of the projects already eligible for PACE financing — such as storm hardening improvements — already test the acronym’s boundaries.
Senators on the panel also commented that the moniker can lead to some confusion among members since there are other programs and organizations that use the PACE name.
Clearwater Sen. Ed Hooper, who carried similar legislation last Session, told Rodriguez PACE “has been competing with two other PACE programs for too many years and we all get confused about which PACE program we are talking about, so point one, good for you.
Committee members also commented that the new name does a better job of conveying what the program provides: a financing option for Florida property owners seeking to make resiliency, energy, or environmentally oriented upgrades to their properties.
While bills updating the PACE system have been filed in the past, they were largely unsuccessful due to perceived issues with repayment prioritization.
Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, touched on that while praising Sen. Rodriguez for finally building enough consensus to advance the issue.
“The big item was the fact that it had this position in front of the mortgage and there were concerns for the bank. I think you’ve solved that by only having them subject to what’s in arrears, which is only a year to, at a maximum, two- or three-years’ worth of payment, which I think is eminently fair to the banks and I think it’s a great program for the homeowners,” Rodrigues said.
In addition to expanding eligible projects — and now a name change — Rodriguez’ bill adds a suite of consumer protections to the financing option.
Among them are requirements that financing companies provide consumers with standardized disclosures that explain repayment terms; get oral confirmation that the borrower understands the terms; and produce a product completion certificate before money changes hands.
The amended bill passed the committee with unanimous support, as it did in its first stop in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. It now heads to the Rules Committee, its final stop before the chamber floor.
Similar legislation is also moving in the House.
HB 387, sponsored by Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine, passed the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee with a 17-0 vote earlier this month. It is now set to go before the Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee when it meets on March 23.
The bills are likely to continue their march forward, as they are well aligned with the environmental philosophies of Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilson Simpson.
The proposals also have support from local governments, who see PACE — or REEF, if the new name sticks — as a way to improve water quality without substantial taxpayer investment.