March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Ingham County joins new program that helps businesses finance energy efficiency projects


Monday, Nov. 19 — Ingham County became the first countywide government in the state last week to join a program that helps businesses become more energy efficient.

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to join Lean & Green Michigan, a public-private partnership that helps businesses finance the costs of reducing their energy footprint through onsite renewable energy projects.

By joining Lean & Green Michigan, a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy program is put in place, which allows businesses to take on special assessments that finance construction geared toward reducing energy or water use and generating renewable energy solutions. Property owners conduct an energy audit of their facility and apply to the program.

“It’s a program to help businesses and business owners upgrade their energy efficiency in their buildings or add new sustainable energy technologies,” said Sandy Gower, Ingham County’s economic development coordinator.

The PACE program is financed entirely through the private sector, not taxpayer dollars or tax increment financing. Business owners can voluntarily take a special assessment on their taxes to help with costs for energy improvements.

“The amount of the assessment is what is needed to make the loan payments,” Gower said. Gower also said the financial institution giving the loan would have to cooperate with the business owner and the program guidelines.

Under the program, property owners often pay nothing down and the project can be paid back over seven to 20 years, which officials say is advantageous to traditional bank loans. Project coordinators also say that energy savings are guaranteed on projects costing more than $250,000.

Gower hopes this frees up money so businesses can expand and possibly hire more employees.

“We want this to reduce energy costs so that businesses are more profitable,” she said.

Andrew Levin, director of the state Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth, is leading Lean & Green Michigan. The program will help pay for construction and retrofits on commercial, industrial and multi-family properties. The assessment does not cover residential single-family houses.

According to the Lean & Green Michigan website, eligible construction includes everything from insulation and solar panels to energy efficient window installation. The program will not finance petroleum, natural gas, nuclear energy, coal, digesters or incinerators.

Ingham County is the second unit of government to join the program, following the city of Southfield.