Wednesday, December 19, 2012

We can LIC our energy problems

Thanks to a new provincial regulation, there is now a cost-free way for municipalities like Barrie to fund homeowners improvements to save or even generate energy.
I’ve written before on the benefits of solar, and of retrofitting to shrink gas or electric bills. For both, the main obstacle is cash. Although energy savings and renewable income return more than they cost, you must put up the money first, then pay it back over time. By borrowing, you can avoid going out-of-pocket, but that won’t work for everyone. Some can’t qualify for a loan, while others are wary of taking on debt. Selling your home before the loan is repaid is also a concern.
But there’s a new way to finance these projects. The municipality funds it through a bond, taken at the lowest interest rate, then recoups the charges through an increase in the improved home’s property tax, called a local improvement charge (LIC).
Normally LICs used to fund road upgrades or sewer improvements, and homeowners have no choice. But the new regulation allows for voluntary agreements with homeowners, for improvements to private buildings rather than public works.
Your monthly utility savings or renewable income repay the loan. There is no debt in your name – the loan is registered to the property itself. If you sell, the obligation (along with the benefit of improvement) transfers to the new owner, while if payments aren’t made, the City can undertake a tax sale, so they can’t lose. The City’s bond is paid down by the homeowner payments, so the cost to the City is nil. The LIC can be set to recover all administrative costs and even generate a small profit. It’s a real win-win situation!
Benefits of this LIC program are many. It will improve the quality and value of our housing stock. It will reduce energy use and pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. It can help people with low income or poor credit, or improve affordable housing without extra cost. The work will create local jobs and support local businesses.
The rules allow for a variety of renewable energy or efficiency projects. These could include new insulation, new windows, a new furnace or air conditioner, solar panels or thermal water heating, etc.
All that is required for this to happen is for the City to take the initiative in setting up a program to make this funding available to residents. If you’d like to see that in 2013, please contact your ward councillor.
And in an update on solar power co-ops, the province has just opened up a narrow window for applications, which closes January 18th. So if you’re still interested in the good clean return of a solar investment, you can contact or for information on how to join.
Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Solar energy program can generate revenue".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

1 comment:

  1. Solar powered air conditioner is one of the great inventions nowadays. I am not yet sure if that type of air conditioner is eco friendly though.

    -Stephanie Braze