State Energy Officials Consider Alternatives To PACE

California energy officials stood by the embattled PACE program today, but said they also will consider alternatives to the plan that has drawn fire from a federal housing finance agency.

California Energy Commission staffers were adamant that the Federal Housing Finance Agency was wrong, and is essentially punishing homeowners, by derailing Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs that several counties in California were undertaking.

But commissioners also acknowledged the obstacles - and wanted to ensure $30 million in PACE financing doesn't disappear because it's not committed by the Dec. 31 deadline. So, they reluctantly agreed to consider a Plan B if Plan A - PACE - falls apart. They are scheduled to revisit the issue Aug. 6.

Claudia Chandler, chief deputy director of the CEC, said the staff is conducting a "full-court press" to come up with an alternative. Failing that, the ultimate fall back is to add the $30 million to an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act energy-conservation loan program that has considerable demand.

Chandler and others said PACE remains the preferred option because it enables homeowners to cut energy bills, add value to their homes and creates jobs. In Sonoma County, an in-progress PACE program has financed more than 1,000 upgrades in 16 months, put $30 million of new investment into the community and directly and indirectly created an estimated 330 jobs.

Sonoma County plans to keep its PACE program regardless of concerns by the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the two mortgage giants it oversees, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said John Haig, energy and sustainability manager for Sonoma County.

PACE was designed to allow California homeowners to finance energy-efficiency upgrades through an assessment on their property tax. FHFA opposed the program, saying the PACE debt takes priority of mortgage debt.

California officials say that's not true. The assessments are tied to the property, not to the borrower, and data shows pilot PACE programs have default rates significantly below mortgage debt. And they pressed their case in court when Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit July 14 against Fannie and Freddie.

Sonoma County also has filed suit, and an array of legislators have submitted bills to keep up the PACE. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he is willing to add PACE language to a watered-down energy bill if a Republican joins in, according to grist, an online clean-energy publication.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region