David Downs still carries around his electric bill from last June, eager to bring it up at any opportunity.
It may seem like an odd conversation piece, but one peek shows why it comes in handy in his line of work selling residential solar panels.
The total: $1.79.
Sure, everyone would love a bill like his. But affording solar panels like those on the roof of his Ballwin home has long been the problem. “People think about solar like a luxury sports car: Everyone wants one but they think it’s too expensive,” says Downs, a sales representative for StraightUp Solar in St. Louis.
Indeed, whether it’s mounting rooftop solar panels or buying a high-efficiency heating and cooling system, one paradox of eco-conscious home improvement is that it’s usually only available to those who can afford hefty investments — and not the less-wealthy homeowners in greater need of the savings those projects make possible.
But that’s starting to change.
“(Solar) is no longer for people who just have a ton of money,” said Mark Walter, a Kansas City-based sales manager for US Sun Solar, a Missouri company that performs household solar installations and energy efficiency projects facilitated by financing tools known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE programs.
“PACE has been really helpful for us in unlocking a market of people who can’t access traditional financing,” Walter says.“Now that you can use home equity to finance solar, you don’t have to have gobs of cash and a super credit score.”
PACE has been on the table in Missouri since gaining legislative approval in 2010.
It was first applied to small commercial projects, and only in the last several months have the programs finally been extended to residential Missouri properties, as local counties and municipalities grant them necessary authorization.
In September, Jackson County, in the Kansas City metro area, became the first place in Missouri to offer PACE to residents, and since November, communities in St. Charles County, St. Louis County, Franklin County and Jefferson County have been among those to follow suit.
Currently, the lone broker of residential PACE financing in Missouri is Renovate America, a California-based company that operates the Home Energy Renovation Opportunity, or HERO, program — the largest home PACE program in the country.
Next month, however, a competing PACE program called Ygrene will also begin operation in the state.
The programs enable property owners in participating communities to pay for certain improvements through a bump in property taxes, typically spread over a five- or 20-year period.
Instead of shouldering the upfront cost, homeowners under the HERO program, for instance, are eligible for lending of up to 20 percent of their assessed property value.
That often provides more than enough for energy efficiency investments or even solar arrays, which can commonly cost $26,000 to $28,000, depending on the size of the home.
PACE programs can also cover household projects that promote water efficiency and even hurricane preparedness in places such as Florida.