Columbiana Port Authority Launches PACE Financing Program

LISBON, Ohio — Saying it will be yet another economic development tool for the area, the Columbiana County Port Authority Board of Directors Monday took steps to establish a property assessed clean energy, or PACE, financing program.

PACE programs allow property owners to finance the up-front costs of energy or other improvements on a property, repaying the cost over time through a tax assessment on the property rather than on the individual.

During its regular monthly meeting Monday, the board participated in a Zoom presentation about the program, explained by Colvin Kalvas of Bricker & Eckler Attorneys at Law, and Donald J. Hart and Amanda Kozak of GAX Capital Group.

Some of the eligible energy efficiency improvements through the PACE program include such clean energy projects as HVAC, lighting, roofs, windows and insulation. Other eligible alternative energy improvements might include solar photovoltaic systems, solar thermal and geothermal, as well as customer-generated projects such as biomass and micro-wind.

To apply for PACE financing, a property owner submits a petition to the local government identifying the proposed project, the assessments and other aspects. Then the local government adopts several pieces of legislation, including resolutions of necessity and ordinances to proceed and levying the assessments.

The final step requires the local government to enter into agreements for each transaction and agree to transfer any assessments actually received to the PACE lender.

Upgrades and retrofits for existing buildings, new construction and “gut” rehabs and refinancing-eligible improvements are all ways in which the PACE can be utilized. While residential property is eligible, Port Authority Executive Director Penny Traina said it is likely the program will be more attractive to commercial property owners.

In order to establish a PACE district, a local government must first have an existing clean energy project underway, Traina explained. The Port Authority has just such a project at its Cherry Fork industrial park in Leetonia, where high efficiency LED lighting and HVAC upgrades and replacements, among other improvements, are being made, she said.

Property owners in other Columbiana County communities interested in submitting a project for consideration in the PACE program will make those submissions through the newly created entity.

The board was advised the Port Authority can provide administrative and management services, utilize its existing relationships and competencies, provide capital for PACE transactions in the form of direct or conduit loans, credit enhanced bond fund loans or loan funds and may bring additional incentives or deal structuring expertise to a project involving PACE, including sales tax exemption, other forms of financing or connection to other incentives.

With board President Charlie Presley absent, the board voted unanimously in favor of a resolution authorizing submission of a petition to Leetonia Village Council requesting creation of an energy special improvement district in conjunction with the county to be authorized to do business under the registered trade name of Columbiana County Energy Special Improvement District.

The petition asks the village to approve creation of the district, add the project site to the district territory and levy special assessments on the project site to pay a portion of the costs of the energy project underway at the Cherry Fork site.

The board also voted to hire Bricker & Eckler as legal counsel, at a total cost of $2,750, to establish the PACE financing program through creation of the energy special improvement district.

In other matters, Traina reported to the board that the Port Authority’s request for $250,000 in grant funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission and Governor’s Office of Appalachia has been approved for the Global Investment Hub project in Leetonia.

The project is a partnership with Youngstown State University Export Assistance and SBDC. Traina said the hub will be used to attract foreign and new companies to invest in the county, specifically in the 3D printing, technology and petrochemical clusters.

With the Ohio General Assembly having allocated an additional $23 million for the Maritime Assistance Program, Traina said letters have been sent to all 18 terminals in Columbiana County to solicit potential projects.

The Port Authority was successful in the initial round of funding, securing about $1.7 million in funding for three river terminals. Traina said requests for applications will come out Aug. 16 for projects, which will be funded with 50% in grant monies and 50% in local matching monies.

Lastly, Traina reported, the agency’s Economic Recovery Program will launch on Aug. 2, with economic recovery coordinators reaching out to local and regional businesses, visiting employers to determine their needs, develop growth opportunities and develop programming around entrepreneurship.

“This program will allow us to create workforce development programs and promote growth to all businesses in Columbiana County,” Traina predicted.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.