Tight households

Local programs allow homeowners to finance energy-efficiency upgrades

PACE allows homeowners and businesses to finance solar panels and other green upgrades.

PACE allows homeowners and businesses to finance solar panels and other green upgrades.

photo by Elenathewise via istock

Get green:
For a list of local PACE programs, go to www.buttebusinessresources.com/property-assessed-clean-energy-pace

As hot as it gets in the Sacramento Valley, a broken air conditioner is a pretty big deal. Out of urgency, it’s unlikely the homeowner or renter will spring for the highest-efficiency replacement.

“When people are being reactive and saying, ‘When something breaks, then I’ll fix it,’ they’re looking for the quick fix,” said Robert Bendorf, community development manager for the HERO program (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity). “If you’re living in Chico in the middle of summer, it’s just not an option to say, ‘OK, we’re going to save for a month or go get a line of credit.’ That can take time.’”

Bendorf advocates for proactive, long-term fixes—specifically, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) as a means of financing energy-efficiency upgrades or renewable-energy installations for homes and commercial properties. HERO offers financing through PACE and launched locally on April 20, bringing the total number of PACE programs in Butte County to five—the others being AllianceNRG, California FIRST, Figtree and Ygrene Energy Fund.

PACE was established through the passage of California Assembly Bill 811, which was signed into law by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008. It allows home and commercial property owners to receive low-interest loans—paid off as an item on property tax bills—to make energy-efficiency improvements.

The legislation falls in step with state and county efforts to meet deadlines to increase renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Jennifer Macarthy, deputy administrative officer for economic and community development in Butte County. The programs also inject money into local economies and create jobs.

“Through this program, there’s an opportunity to generate additional jobs—energy-efficiency and green-construction types of jobs—and this money circulates throughout our community and creates an economic benefit,” Macarthy said.

The statewide environmental impacts of PACE are substantial, according to statistics from the treasurer’s office. As of June 2015, California FIRST reported an estimated annual savings of 1.3 million kilowatt hours (kWh)—one kWh would power a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours—and 330,000 gallons of water, or about 19,500 showers. HERO, meanwhile, reported an annual savings of about 86 million kWh and nearly 40 million gallons of water (or roughly 2.4 million showers).

Moving forward, Butte County will track PACE’s local success by total kW of solar sold, total projects completed and money saved by businesses, Macarthy said.

PACE offers people who own homes or commercial properties a number of cool benefits, she added. First is cost savings. PACE finances 100 percent of the home improvement project, allowing people to replace outdated and inefficient air conditioners, insulation, windows and doors, as well as install rooftop solar panels or drought- resistant landscaping. All ultimately save money, she said.

Then there’s increased property value. The improvements must be permanent—not dishwashers, refrigerators or other appliances. That way, the value stays with the property if it’s sold; the loan, too, is transferable to the next homeowner.

“Even if you sell your property tomorrow, the improvements will stand the test of time,” Macarthy said.

Working as third-party administrators of PACE, programs like HERO work with local contractors to finance home improvements.

“Finding a contractor in your particular area is actually pretty easy,” Bendorf said. “But [contractors] also understand that they’ll be held to a very high standard when they’re working with us and using us as a financing source.”

Eligibility for the loan is determined mostly by home equity rather than credit score. That helps people who might otherwise struggle to find a loan to make efficiency upgrades to their homes, said Jacoby Woods, sales manager for Westhaven Solar in Yuba City.

“A lot of people have been happy that they have a solution that is not based on the criteria that Wall Street puts forward with your traditional lending terms,” he said.

The relationship with HERO is “definitely a positive to our business,” Woods said. “Whatever our customer’s need is, it’s good to have HERO facilitate the financing.”

The favorable terms and conditions in a financing assessment through PACE programs—e.g., that the loan is fixed to the property and it’s paid as part of property tax bills—appeal to many customers, he said. Especially those with poor credit scores.

“People are excited when they find out this is an option,” Woods said of PACE. “Lots of people don’t know there’s a state and county program that enables them to receive funding for energy-efficient upgrades.

“Overall, it’s a benefit to consumers looking for energy upgrades but also the environment,” Woods continued. “If someone goes solar, it helps that person as well as the energy company. It’s a huge benefit to the public and makes a big difference to people who couldn’t do an energy upgrade any other way.”