Recently, there has been some momentum behind energy efficiency legislation, both in the House and the Senate. There is the Shaheen-Portman ESICA bill, an energy efficiency only bill; Conrad’s FUEL Act, a broader energy bill; Lugar is prepping an energy bill that incorporates strong energy efficiency language; and now a bill reviving PACE is being prepped in the House.
PACE, Property Assessed Clean Energy, allows the upfront costs of property owners’ clean energy and energy efficiency projects to be financed by local governments, and paid back by homeowners as an increase in their property taxes.
The concept behind the PACE program is that the energy savings from energy efficiency and clean energy projects would outstrip the costs over time, but that the upfront costs were a barrier to many people in implementing the badly needed changes.
Several municipalities and states had implemented these programs, and it sounded like such a good idea that $150 million in the ARRA was dedicated to support them. Unfortunately, in mid-2010 the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates government sponsored mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks stopped the PACE programs in their tracks by refusing to issue mortgages that had a PACE loan in first priority. Go here for the full story.
Now, there is draft legislation being sponsored by Representatives Hayworth (R-NY19), Thompson (D-CA1) and Lungren (R-CA3) to restructure PACE and allow it to move forward. According to supporters of the Bill, it is due to be dropped in the House next week before the summer recess. A draft of the proposed bill and more information is available here.
The PACE bill requires Fannie, Freddie and the other banking regulators not to "greenline" PACE properties by restricting lending or requiring higher underwriting standards.
To assuage the concerns of the banking regulators, the PACE bill:
- Requires homeowners to have at least 15% equity in the home
- Puts a cap of 10% of the value of the home on the PACE assessment
- Requires the homeowner to have a solid history of tax payment
- Requires an energy audit to ensure cost effective energy efficiency projects are undertaken
- Requires that there be no liens, bankruptcy, defaults, etc.
- Prohibits the PACE loan from being accelerated at foreclosure
Notably, the Bill does not take away the first lien priority of the PACE, but only requires payment of the delinquent PACE payments upon foreclosure, not the entire debt.
Notably, the Shaheen-Portman ESICA Act also incorporates PACE-enabling language at Section 202, although it is in the context of credit support for PACE bonds, which does not necessarily solve the PACE lien problem.
Fannie and Freddie have gotten so far out ahead of this issue, the agencies probably could not dial back their objections if they wanted to at this point. Only legislation will override their "veto" of residential PACE at this point.