Calling Julian Boyle the godfather of PACE in Canada wouldn’t be an overstatement – but it might be selling him short.
PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is a program model that allows municipalities to finance energy improvements on private property at no cost to themselves. With 42% of Nova Scotia’s GHG emissions coming from our buildings, and 18% nationwide, PACE is perhaps one of the most important tools our communities have in the fight against climate change.
As the Energy Manager for Halifax in the 2010s, Julian learned about this new idea being tried at progressive cities in the USA such as Berkley, California. He pitched it to the City’s leadership and led a cross-departmental team to build and roll out Solar City, the first PACE program in Canada, in 2012.
Solar City was a hit straight away — fully subscribed the same day it was launched, with over 400 systems installed during the 18-month pilot phase — and it’s not hard to understand why. PACE is that rare climate action solution that allows participants to cut both their greenhouse gas emissions and their costs from day one. The program works on a 1:1 savings-to-loan ratio: owners pay no more for the improvements than they save on their monthly energy bills. And once the PACE loan is paid off, they get to enjoy those savings for as long as they own their building.
Re-launched in 2016, Solar City is still the most successful PACE program in Canada. It has generated over 900 home energy improvements and reduced GHG emissions by over 4000 tonnes a year and was recognized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as one of the top sustainability projects in 2015. It also started a movement: there are more than 10 PACE programs in communities across Nova Scotia, as many again in other parts of Canada, and several provinces are working towards enabling them in the coming years.
Building the first and best program of its kind in Canada, and sparking other communities to follow suit, would be enough for most people – but Julian was just getting started: “it’s exciting to see residents so empowered to tackle climate change, while saving money and creating local business opportunities.” In 2021, his Community Interest Corporation, PACE Atlantic, helped 3 Atlantic communities launch new PACE programs with financial assistance from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Community Energy Financing program.
The Towns of Wolfville and Stratford and the City of Charlottetown were betting on Julian’s track record and work ethic to help them sign up homeowners and get energy projects out the door. “Wolfville declared a climate emergency in 2019 — the PACE program is one spoke in our efforts to respond,” notes Wolfville Mayor Wendy Donovan. “[Climate change] is a reality in our communities, and we need to address with every tool that we have”. But in an era of Covid restrictions and economic uncertainty, could lightning really be expected to strike twice?
Apparently so: as of the end of 2021, 3 months after its program launched, Wolfville had received over 150 applications to its PACE program and committed all of its 3 years’ worth of funding from FCM. To most program administrators, running out of money is a bad thing: for PACE Atlantic, it was proof that their approach works and that their timelines need to be sped up. Wolfville and the other municipal programs are all achieving 3-5% market penetration per year of deep energy retrofits. This is the scale and speed needed to get to net-zero by 2040.
PACE Atlantic has already been working with progressive investors – banks and companies that believe they can do well by doing good – for years to figure out what private financing for PACE could look like in the Canadian market. “We always knew that more investment was going to be needed to scale up our programs and hit our communities’ GHG emissions reduction targets” says Julian.
As the old proverb reminds us, nothing succeeds like success. With a strong track record, a proven model, and lots of community interest and support, Julian and his company are primed to keep setting the PACE on home energy in Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada.
Since 2005, Omar has been working with communities across Canada and the world to identify and meet their sustainability, emissions reduction, and energy needs. As QUEST’s Senior Lead, Project and Stakeholder Relations, Omar chairs the Municipal Energy and Buildings Working Groups, and manages and develops projects and partnerships in Nova Scotia.