Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jonathan Blackburn of the Texas Pace Authority talks about the Pace Program

Jonathan Blackburn of the Texas Pace Authority talks about the Pace Program

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Pensacola, Florida.

What university did you go to?

I attended Mississippi State University, graduating with a degree in Chemical Engineering, before studying at Duke and the University of Cambridge.

What is your group’s mission?

Our mission is to provide a new type of financing for energy and water efficiency upgrades to commercial property. The goal of the Texas PACE Authority (TPA) is to administer and promote Texas’ Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs for the purpose of helping property owners utilize economically sound energy and water improvements for their properties.

What need does it fulfill?

The biggest barrier to investment in upgrading buildings is in how to pay for the improvements. PACE financing solves many of the problems that have kept our infrastructure from being equipped with new energy efficient technologies.
PACE financing lets you put in energy efficiency measures and simultaneously increase your bottom line. The goals of the TPA help Texan property owners save money on energy and water bills by being more efficient and environmentally friendly with their resource consumption.

What exactly does it bring to startups?

The TPA allows for increased investment in property retrofits and new energy savings technologies in the state of Texas. For startups, this means that if your company has a technology product with a long payback, or if you have trouble convincing property owners of the financial case for your product, PACE will enable you to do more business. This increased latitude for finance opens the door for startups to enter the market and work with property owners, contractors, and lenders to facilitate and aid the property retrofitting process.

What type of startup would benefit from your group?

Startups related to real estate, construction and property retrofits, clean energy, and finance would benefit from the TPA. PACE financing can be used for energy and water efficiency technologies; if your business is in that space, PACE could benefit you.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?

Working to ensure that the TPA is the unified PACE administrator for the entirety of Texas is a challenging task, but also a necessary one. That is because the TPA, as a Texan non-profit with an emphasis on open market-based approaches to energy finance, is the best positioned administrator to keep prices and fees as low as possible for Texan property owners.

There are 254 counties in Texas, and adopting a PACE program requires a local government resolution. We’re now open in Travis County, and hope to have a couple of more big announcements by the end of the year.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

In the clean energy space, you have to be focused on economics as much as technology. The market will decide which technologies win out, and that decision comes down to the financial bottom line. You have to make sure you can present a sound business case as well as a technology case if you’re going to convince someone to invest in your technology. I work with a lot of engineers and contractors who are really good at selling projects in terms of kWh saved, but really, they should be selling projects in terms of $ saved.

What resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

Various organizations have been helpful to the development and support of the TPA, including but not limited to Austin Energy, the State Energy Conservation Office, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the US Green Buildings Council. These groups, and more, believe that PACE loans are an important mechanism for the modernization of Texas’ properties, and as such are willing to lend their support, guidance, and resources – that is why they have been the most helpful.

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