Supporters of PACE Programs Fighting Back

Local governments across the country are picking up the PACE in their efforts to continue a popular method of financing energy-efficiency upgrades. Meanwhile, California's governor signed a law making it easier to fund such programs should they get started again.

Leon County, Fla., is the latest local government to file a lawsuit to allow jurisdictions to participate in Property Assessed Clean Energy programs, which allow property owners to finance energy improvements through a line item on their property tax bills.

PACE-type programs were stymied when the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, recommended against them, saying they are risky.

That "guidance" essentially stalled PACE just as many programs, including one that featured Fresno and Kern counties as test cases, were rolling out. The state of California, several counties and cities and consumer groups filed legal complaints to jump-start the financing measures. Leon County filed its lawsuit against the Federal Housing Finance Agency on Oct. 8.

In a related matter, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill allowing the California Public Employees Retirement System, the State Compensation Insurance Fund and the Pooled Money Investment Board to invest in local bonds to fund PACE programs, which could have the effect of lowering interest rates on PACE financing.

The new bill, AB 1873, will likely sit on the shelf until the PACE issues are resolved. Supporters of PACE say the program allows homeowners and businesses to cut their energy costs, would create thousands of jobs for contractors and help the environment.

Leon County Attorney Herbert A. Thiele said county officials hope the lawsuits will lead to a resolution. "It is our hope that Congress will act to resolve the FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s interpretations so that we can continue to offer LEAP (Leon Energy Assistance Program, its version of PACE)."