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Local construction, environment and business groups have launched a public-awareness campaign to urge Congress to enact legislation that protects the pipeline of energy-efficiency projects funded with loans through Property Assessed Clean Energy programs such as the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program.
A model letter, circulated by the North Bay chapter of Efficiency First, Solar Sonoma County and the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign, ask members of Congress to deal with recent statements of concern by the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency about the financing of such projects.
“What we’re doing now is lobbying D.C. heavily not to put the kibosh on PACE programs like SCEIP,” said homebuilder and energy-performance contractor Craig Lawson, president of Santa Rosa-based Pinnacle Homes. He’s also on the boards of the local chapter of Efficiency First and Solar Sonoma County. “We’ve solicited letters of support from every major business organization.”
Those organizations include Sonoma County Alliance, North Bay Leadership Council, North Coast Builders Exchange, local chapters of the American Institute of Architects, American Council of Engineering Companies and Engineering Contractors Association, and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.
Thousands of support letters have been submitted nationwide, according to Jeff Tannenbaum, founder of advocacy group PACEnow.org.
SCEIP launched in March 2009 and has funded more than 1,000 solar energy and efficiency projects.
By the end of July, Sonoma County had disbursed $32 million through SCEIP and had no delinquency in property-tax payments on properties with program-funded projects, according to Rod Dole, Sonoma County auditor, controller, treasurer and tax collector. He and county Supervisor Shirlee Zane both have made efforts to explain SCEIP to U.S. Senate Banking Committee members.
Some contractors supplemented the huge hit to their revenues since the housing crash of 2006 and the financial markets crash of 2008 with energy-retrofit projects. Plumbing contractor LeDuc & Dexter of Santa Rosa has completed 10 retrofits, including a number with Pinnacle Homes.
“It’s not a huge part of our business, but it can be a big part,” said President Tom LeDuc. “However, I sense that people right now are afraid to spend money, even if it is financed.”
PACE programs, approved in 22 states, were set to start this summer, backed by $150 million in federal energy grants.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on July 13 voted to restart SCEIP after the banking agencies’ statements prompted suspension of funding.
In July the state and county sued in federal court over the effect the banking agencies’ warnings about debt risk have on SCEIP and PACE energy-retrofit lending, which are secured via senior liens on the properties. The programs were designed that way to allow the debt to follow the property and not the current owner. But the banking regulators warned federal loan backers and institutional lenders about financing properties that had debt that had to be paid before the lender in the case of default.
On a national level, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, introduced H.R. 5766, called the PACE Protection Act of 2010, which would adapt Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s underwriting standard to allow for PACE loans. As of July 29, it had 42 co-sponsors, including Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.