New program aims to make green improvements to industrial and commercial buildings in Newton

There are 57 municipalities — including Newton — that have adopted PACE in Massachusetts, according to the Mass Development website.

Newton City Treasurer Ron Mendes said the city will not incur any financial harm if a borrower fails to repay their loan because Newton is not acting as a lender. Instead, a private bank will coordinate with Mass Development to provide financing to borrowers.

“If the landlord doesn’t pay, we just notify Mass Development that the landlord hasn’t paid, and then Mass Development will do any kind of advanced collection needed,” Mendes said.

Albright said that when a building owner wants to upgrade energy infrastructure using PACE, the city ties an improvement — an asset added to a property that increases its value — to the property tax on the property.

“The benefit of doing it this way is that it’s a small effort on the city’s part to add an improvement because we’re already doing it for things like sidewalks,” Albright said.

In 2019, the city adopted a climate action plan outlining a strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Victoria Danberg, Newton City Councilor for Ward 6, said the city will ” take fancy steps” if she hopes to achieve that goal.

“Upgrading existing buildings is really important because the majority of carbon emissions come from buildings,” Danberg said.

Buildings account for 64% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Newton, more than waste and transport combined, according to the Climate Action Plan report. Residential buildings account for 55% of building emissions, the report says, and commercial and industrial buildings — which are eligible for PACE upgrades — account for 41%.

Danberg said the PACE program will pave the way toward achieving the city’s climate goals.

“I see no reason the city shouldn’t take advantage of this program and help move our climate action plan forward,” she said.

Newton is drafting an ordinance similar to a measure passed by the city of Boston, Albright said, which authorizes the city to set emission standards for large buildings and ultimately achieve net zero emissions by 2050. She said the PACE program will be an important part of this effort.

“When we’re going to say buildings you need to retrofit, you need to electrify your building, we can say not only that you need to do it, but there’s a potential source of funding for it,” Albright said.

Joe Carella, executive director of Newton-based non-profit assisted living community Scandinavian Living Center, said his business could benefit immediately from adopting PACE.

“I have to replace our HVAC because of what happened last winter,” Carella said. “It’s over 20 years old and it broke down over the winter – we know we need to replace it.”

The Scandinavian Living Center had been saving to repair the system, but Carella said the pandemic had put significant financial pressure on its cash reserves, making it difficult to subsidize an upgrade to the HVAC system.

Danberg said that since those eligible for PACE are existing industrial and commercial buildings, the Scandinavian Living Center would be “a perfect use” of the program.

“The Living Center will be able to do more upgrades, sooner at that time, than it could otherwise afford,” Danberg said.

Carella said that in addition to helping her own business, the program will benefit everyone.

“If you can become more energy efficient, that’s fantastic,” he said. “And I hope the city embraces it, not because of us, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Walker Armstrong can be contacted at [email protected]

Comments are closed.