With a unanimous vote by City Council, San Antonio checked the box on one of initial goals set forth in its climate plan adopted last October.

On Thursday, council members approved the use of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing in the city. PACE is a state program intended to make low-cost, long-term loans available for clean energy and water conservation projects on private properties.

PACE allows property owners and lenders to agree to financing that makes loan repayments part of an owner’s property tax bill. If a property changes hands, its new owners are then responsible for paying off the loan. Adopting PACE was included in San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan as a way to make it easier to make buildings more energy efficient.

With roughly two-thirds of San Antonio’s greenhouse gas emissions tied to energy use in buildings, those who support local climate action see PACE as an important step toward San Antonio’s goals of reducing such emissions to effectively zero by 2050.

“When folks were a little bit scared or tentative about adopting that [climate] plan, I tried to remind them that all of the measures in the plan are win-wins,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said at the meeting. “This is a perfect example of something that’s going to reduce emissions and it’s going to save our community money, so why would we not move forward on something like that?”

The Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) will serve as the City’s PACE administrator. AACOG will in turn issue a request for proposals to contract with a third-party administrator to oversee the program. That would likely be one of the state’s two nonprofit administrators, Texas PACE Authority and Lone Star PACE.

On Thursday, AACOG Executive Director Diane Rath told council members the program is helpful “particularly for the landowners of apartments, hotels, industrial, [and] commercial” properties.

Since its creation in 2013, the program has led to $101.5 million in investments for 26 projects, according to City staff. Twelve cities and 23 counties in Texas have already adopted PACE. San Antonio was the only major city in the state that had not yet signed on.

David Matiella, a University of Texas at San Antonio associate dean and board member of the U.S. Green Building Coalition’s Texas chapter, told council members that PACE is useful for retrofitting buildings to make them more efficient.

“The greenest building you can build is the one that’s already built,” Matiella said, adding that retrofits can “take an existing building and improve it using energy efficiency, water efficiency measures, better daylighting, and better indoor environmental quality” designs.

Elizabeth Kertesz, executive director of San Antonio’s 2030 District, a nonprofit group that supports energy and water efficiency among property owners in the city’s urban core, also spoke at Thursday’s meeting. There, she said that PACE will help property owners “improve our city’s existing building stock, reduce energy consumption, and save tenants money on operating expenses while addressing the climate and energy crisis.”

Sandoval pointed out that the financing isn’t only available for large buildings. Small businesses and residential properties with five or more units are also eligible.

“It’s also great for the small businesses like many of our taquerias, our auto body shops,” Sandoval said. “So there is a lot potential for the PACE program to work.”

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.