A Fayetteville nonprofit is the first to benefit after years of effort to establish an energy efficiency program in Arkansas.

The Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, Act became law in 2013, after heavy advocacy by environmental leaders in the Arkansas Citizens First Congress and other groups. PACE allows government entities to form energy improvement districts and fund low interest, long-term loans for energy efficiency improvements, water conservation improvements and renewable energy projects.

Communities Unlimited completed a $27,000 energy retrofit, including improved lighting, HVAC work and landscaping.

“We have about four or five other active projects in some stage of being developed,” said Fayetteville’s Director of Sustainability and Resilience Peter Nierengarten. “We hope to have a couple more completed by end of year.”

Under the program, property owners finance EE projects and the energy savings exceed loan payments. The building becomes more efficient, and the improvements pay for themselves.

PACE started in 2008 in California, and earlier this year it was only active in 12 states, Nierengarten said.

“PACE is still very young,” he said. “To have Arkansas joining that leading edge and beginning to take advantage of a really unique way of financing energy improvements is really exciting and a great step forward.”

Arkansas Citizens First Congress Co-Chair Mark Robertson says the first time PACE legislation was introduced in 2011, it didn’t have bipartisan support, and misunderstandings killed the bill.

“We spent two years frankly learning from what happened, and going back to where the opposition came from to address their concerns,” Robertson said. “We modified what we needed to modify or explained the program to the point where they were comfortable and understood it.”

Pulaski County, North Little Rock and Little Rock are also developing their own energy improvement districts and Robertson hopes the three will consolidate.

“Any legal jurisdiction or group of jurisdictions can create a district,” he says. “Right now the counties that have more are stepping up, but other areas can’t afford their own independent programs because of the overhead and administrative costs.”

Robertson says creating a statewide PACE program could make it easier for less affluent places to get on board.

“It’s what makes sense,” he says. “It cuts administrative costs, and you’d lower the interest rate significantly because of scale if you could bundle everything.” I

n addition, Federal regulations did not allow residential customers with homes financed through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to apply for the program. President Obama recently announced measures to unlock residential PACE financing for singlefamily housing.

Robertson says establishing a statewide program, and adopting residential PACE could be a boon for Arkansas homeowners and the green economy. He says several hundred thousand homes qualify for energy efficiency work just by the owner’s income level, but there isn’t enough money to fix all of them. PACE could be the solution.

“Every homeowner in the state could benefit from energy efficiency and renewable energy investments,” he says. “It could be billions of dollars of economic development, and lots and lots and lots of jobs.”