Solar Humbuggery Still Afoot With Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac Sabotaging Job Creation

Whenever I vote these days, I feel a little like Charlie Brown must feel when Lucy tells him to go ahead and kick the football and then she pulls it away. From about 2008 until the spring of 2010, thousands of homeowners in 23 states were able to go solar because of a unique long-term low-interest financing program called PACE.

PACE is an acronym for property assessed clean energy. (PACE) programs which enables local governments to offer loans for solar and other clean energy home improvements. These programs were great because they allowed the average homeowner to get into solar by the programs end the chief barrier to clean energy installations: the large upfront cost.

Despite a year of an intense letter writing campaign to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about the benefits of PACE solar loans, their position still has not changed. It makes me sick to think the US tax payer can bail out the big banks and then they get away with sticking it to us… practically the next day? Whats up with that? Why isn’t the Tea Party up in arms about big banks and their deliberate open sabotage of the jobs market? (hmm, maybe because big oil is financing the Tea Party?)

Well now a little more motivation is coming our way to grease the wheel. Rising gas prices and uncertainty about oil supplies from the Middle East have given an added urgency to supporters solar and renewable energy financing with speakers at the PACE solutions conference at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert California campus. In a story written for My Desert by K. Kaufmann, more than 100 business and energy officials to the two-day event, former city councilman Jim Ferguson said property-assessed clean energy financing plans, similar to Palm Desert’s, could be a critical tool in ending U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, issued one of the strongest condemnations of the federal agency, calling its action to close down PACE solar programs “profoundly troubling” and “incomprehensible.”

“If we did just 20 percent of what Palm Desert did for the state of California, using AB 811 (solar renewable energy bill), that is enough to offset our foreign dependence on oil just right there. It would cut the need to drill in Alaska,” Ferguson said.

But Palm Desert’s program, and other PACE solar programs in California and across the nation, now face opposition from the Federal Housing Finance Agency the main issue on which conference speakers focused.

“The FHFA is robbing the people of America and local governments of America with the single stroke of a pen,” he said. “Red states and blue states, Texas and California all have PACE solar programs.”

Palm Desert started the first PACE solar program in the nation in 2008, providing affordable financing for solar and energy-efficient home improvements, with long-term repayments linked to homeowners’ property taxes, similar to public works assessments.

Assembly Bill 811 is the law the city helped write and pass that allowed cities and counties to set up the solar financing programs.

About 23 states now have PACE solar laws, many of which have been on hold since July last year, when the FHFA directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to deny mortgages to any property with a PACE assessment on it. The agency has argued the PACE programs are a threat to home mortgage markets.

Some cities and counties such as Palm Desert and Sonoma have kept their solar programs open and are continuing to provide financing to residents and businesses.

Palm Desert’s program has funded 101 solar installations and 135 energy-efficiency projects for residents, using $6 million in city funds, said project manager Martín Alvarez.

Sonoma’s solar program also is going strong, said county treasurer Rod Dole, who credited the program with creating several hundred jobs and five megawatts of renewable energy.

“PACE solar financing is about jobs; it’s about clean energy,” Dole said. “If this doesn’t have a public benefit, I don’t know what does.”

Palm Desert and Sonoma, along with the state of California, have filed suit against the FHFA, but the case will not go to trial until April 2012, Ferguson reported.

Another conference focus was on programs that are circumventing the FHFA restrictions by limiting PACE financing to commercial projects the tack Palm Springs has taken for a program it hopes to launch this summer, Councilwoman Ginny Foat said.

“It’s very encouraging to be here,” Foat said. “Because of what happened with the FHFA, we put things on hold, but we’re ready to go.”

National efforts are underway to gain bipartisan support for a bill in Congress that would overturn the FHFA action against solar financing and be a significant move towards fixing this broken economy, said David Gabrielson, director of PACE Now, an advocacy group that sprang up in reaction to the federal opposition.

Two California congressman, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, have agreed to form a working group to come up with a bill, he said.

The goal, Gabrielson said, is to “emphasize things that everyone can agree on.”

If the cities across America were to get behind this solar program, America could take the initiative to rid us of the burden of importing oil from people who do not like Americans while creating local jobs with solar and other renewable energy programs. Instead… Arugh! Lucy fooled me again.