Weather Forecast


Setting a good PACE: AirCorps Aviation uses financing opportunity to improve energy efficiency

Mik Fisher, an electrician from North Country Electrical Services, installs LED lights on Thursday morning at AirCorps Aviation, which is the first business in Beltrami County to use the PACE program, a financing project in Minnesota that helps companies become more energy efficient. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—A financing program through a Twin Cities agency is helping an energy efficiency project at AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji take off.

The program, Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, is in use by the aircraft restoration company for upgrades to its facility's lighting and insulation that will result in annual savings of $3,350. As part of the project, AirCorps is working with the St. Paul Port Authority, an organization that provides PACE financing.

"PACE is a national program that's managed regionally and the St. Paul Port Authority is the only agency able to provide it statewide," said Andrea Novak, senior vice president of Marketing at the St. Paul Port Authority. "What we do is develop partnerships with local governments, counties or cities to set up joint powers agreements to have the ability to place an assessment on the property getting financing."

"It needs authorization from the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners. The Port Authority certifies the number of the rate and the number of years on the loan," Beltrami County Administrator Kay Mack said. "That's the number that the county auditor will put on the business, working similar to a special assessment."

Sara Zimmerman, AirCorps Aviation business coordinator, said manager Erik Hokuf decided to use the program after hearing about it during a Headwaters Regional Development Commission presentation.

"Financing the program through property taxes creates a more convenient way to fund projects. Rather than getting a loan, this is instead paid over 10 years," Zimmerman said. "The opportunity that PACE offers is the ability to do the project while allowing for cash on hand to go toward growing the business rather than updating the buildings."

Energy audit first

For AirCorps, the process began by conducting an energy audit that pointed out recommendations the business could work on. From there, AirCorps worked with the county and the Port Authority to obtain the financing and begin the work.

"The annual savings amount to $2,400 in insulation and $950 in lighting. We're also considering a phase two for a heating system," Zimmerman said. "By financing the program through property taxes, it creates a more convenient way to fund the projects rather than getting a loan. This instead will be paid over 10 years."

According to Novak, PACE has been used since 2010 and operates throughout all of Minnesota, despite being provided by a St. Paul agency.

"Projects considered for PACE include those related to efficiency equipment to use less energy and also work toward renewables such as solar and wind," Novak said. "It's something that's really starting to take off. We're seeing projects of all different sizes and work with a lot of different types of companies, from industrial to agricultural."

"I think it only made sense for us because we have several initiatives that are about reducing waste in general," Zimmerman said. "We want to be responsible consumers of energy. One of our core values is being good stewards and there's no reason that energy shouldn't fall under that, too."

For Mack, the first PACE project in the area is also a positive step for Beltrami County.

"It's good for us, we're helping businesses, promoting economic development and supporting energy efficiency," Mack said. "We will include this in our county newsletter because it helps us let businesses know that they can reduce the cost of heating and lighting and it's good for them."

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

(218) 333-9791