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Unique Financing Option Aligns Tenant and Building Owner Energy Efficiency Goals 

Curt Monhart's picture
President, E3 Prime Environments

E3 Prime Environments’ focus is on commercial, industrial, multi-family and non-profit buildings, as well as agricultural applications. Our project development work includes identifying...

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  • Mar 29, 2022

Unique Financing Option Aligns Tenant and Building Owner Energy Efficiency Goals 


How do you get the owner of an older building and their tenants, who frequently have a triple-net lease, to come to an agreement when deciding how to pay for cost-saving facility upgrades?

I had an opportunity to address that question while completing an energy efficiency upgrade proposal. 

The 60-year-old building has outdated, energy inefficient lighting with old fixtures and less than ideal light quality for the production and retail operations housed within. The HVAC equipment is at the end of its projected life expectancy. In addition to being energy inefficient, it’s costly to maintain. 

Tenants desire an energy-efficient building since it directly reduces their total cost to rent. However, owners are hesitant to make any major upgrades since, with a triple net lease, the tenants pay the utility and equipment repair bills. They don’t see a return on the investment. This situation is referred to as the “split incentive” problem where the tenant and owner do not equally benefit from an energy efficiency upgrade. 

“The project was ready to launch because the needs of the tenant, as well as the needs of the property owner, had been met using a unique financing solution” 

I overcame the split incentive obstacle on this project by introducing Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, to the decision-makers. PACE is an innovative financing option for funding energy efficiency improvements having many advantages over traditional financing options. Typically for a term of 15 to 25 years and always at a fixed interest rate, the loan is paid for by a special assessment on the owner’s property tax bill, similar to those levied for streets, sidewalks, sewers, and other improvements. 

Resulting from the advantages of PACE-funding, the project is now getting ready to launch as the needs of the tenant, as well as the property owner, have been met. It calls for new HVAC units, replacing the existing lighting with LEDs, and installing a solar array on the large flat roof. The array eliminates a significant portion of the tenant’s electric bill. And with its onsite generation of electricity, it provides an important step toward sustainability.

The tenants will see lower energy costs. And while a triple net lease will increase their apportioned property taxes to accommodate the special PACE assessment, utility costs will be less than the assessment, therefore realizing a lower total cost to lease. 

How does a solar array benefit the building owner when it ultimately only reduces the tenant's electric bill?

The owner ends up with a more valuable property with the latest energy-consuming technologies and a more profitable one. Energy efficiency upgrades-especially HVAC and lighting-result in a more comfortable environment. This leads to easier tenant acquisition, higher occupancy rates, and often increased lease rates. And there’s a great PR benefit. With the solar panels clearly visible to all passers-by, it sends a clear message the owner is being a good steward of the environment. This is truly a win-win for both parties as well as the environment.

"Getting building owners and tenants together to reach an agreement on the scope of needed upgrades and how they are going to be financed is significantly easier with the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. PACE can finance needed upgrades using the money saved through greater efficiency and benefits both parties while actually improving cash flow.

Here’s a summary of the benefits to both building owners and tenants when using PACE to fund energy efficiency upgrades:

Building owner:

  • Upgraded property with cutting-edge energy efficiency technologies
  • No debt is added to the balance sheet thereby maintaining future borrowing power (PACE is considered a tax and not debt)
  • No capital outlay since PACE provides 100% funding
  • Improved NOI resulting in higher property values and marketability
  • Satisfied tenants - higher occupancy and lease rates
  • Financing paid for by tenant due to triple net lease
  • Demonstrated environmental stewardship


    • Reduction in energy use lowers the total cost of the lease
    • Automated lighting controls including occupancy sensors and improved light quality
    • More comfortable workspace
    • Improved retail space appearance with state-of-the-art lighting
    • Improved cash flow (savings are greater than the added PACE special assessment)
    • Reduced maintenance and repair costs with new HVAC units and lighting
    • Greater energy independence with onsite generation capabilities.

“The split incentive obstacle can now be overcome through the use of innovative financing options.”

Outcomes that are financially agreeable to both the building owner and the tenant are much easier to launch and move towards completion. The Property Assessed Clean Energy financing option takes the needs of the building owner, as well as those of the tenant, into consideration and creates a win-win solution. 



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