PACE Programs Continue Despite Fed Policy

By Published On: March 11, 2011

Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs for energy efficiency and solar retrofits remain active in Sonoma County, Palm Desert, and some other communities across the nation, though local officials have changed the way they administer them in the wake of federal limits. In Palm Desert-the first municipality in the nation to employ solar assessment program financing-the city now is making sure that borrowers for solar and energy efficiency upgrades consult with their mortgage lenders when program loans exceed $30,000, according to Martin Alvarez, city redevelopment manager. Alvarez said that a Federal Housing Finance Agency policy issued last summer has not stopped his city's assessment program. The federal housing agency effectively blocked federally-backed mortgages on properties with assessments. The decision stopped many cities and states that were ready to go with Property Assessed Clean Energy programs from moving ahead (see related story on page 9). Palm Desert, according to Alvarez, is embarking on its third round of funding. This round marks an investment of $6 million on top of previous funding totaling $5 million. The program is popular in the hot desert community, he noted, where temperatures can exceed 120 degrees in summer and home energy bills easily can top $1,000 a month. Sonoma County's Property Assessed Clean Energy program remains "open for business" too, said Rod Dole, county tax assessor. Dole said lending continues at the rate of about $1.5 million a month. Since starting the program in 2009, Dole said the county has loaned out $42.4 million to finance 1,329 projects. The county dedicated $100 million to the program at the outset. In a key change to address the federal policy, Sonoma County is requiring program loans to be paid in full when properties with assessments are refinanced or sold if they are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. These two quasi-federal financing agencies guarantee mortgages by purchasing home loans from banks after they are made. Los Angeles County prepared a Property Assessed Clean Energy program, but after the federal housing agency decision county supervisors decided not to fund it, explained Glenn Byers, county assistant treasurer. Consequently, the county so far has limited the availability of assessments to residents in the city of Los Angeles, where city officials are working to match homeowners with financing for energy efficiency and solar retrofits. Other cities in California have programs too, though they are largely inactive. Property Assessed Clean Energy is a financing program in which home and business owners borrow funds for solar and energy efficiency upgrades and pay off the loans as part of their property tax assessments. Municipalities generally arrange for the loans, or make them with proceeds from bonds, and administer the program.

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