by William Dinkel and Claudia Girrbach
This is the second of a two-part interview with Dennis Tsu, who manages Business Development for Commercial PACE with Renewable Funding.
In part one of our interview, we introduced PACE – Property Assessed Clean Energy. PACE provides business and residential property owners with financing for renewable energy or energy efficiency investments that is repaid through a property tax assessment.
As we learned in part one, PACE was established to overcome the financial hurdle faced by property owners by eliminating the high upfront costs that often derail green projects. Although PACE is an innovative financing approach, it will only be effective if it is adopted.
In this portion of the interview, we address the barriers to widespread adoption. Like most sustainability efforts, adoption requires engaging multiple and diverse constituents, including the following:
• Management – Cities / counties and PACE administrators
• Consumers – Property owners
• Influencers – Property Leasers, contractors, architects, engineering firms, product suppliers, media
• Other interested parties – Lenders, voters, federal government
William Dinkel: Who are the key players and what roles do they play in making PACE available to every property owner?
Dennis Tsu: First, each state legislature needs to understand the benefits of PACE and then pass the appropriate legislation to enable the establishment of PACE programs. As of today, there are, 20+ states that have passed PACE-enabling legislation, and another five to ten that are actively debating whether to pass PACE legislation in their state legislatures.
Once legislation is passed, then the cities and counties need to set up their own PACE programs. The cities and counties may administer the program on their own or select a third party. Here in California, a statewide program [Note 1] to administer PACE was implemented that any jurisdiction may opt into. Some jurisdictions are still choosing to implement their own independent program.
The administrator can play various roles – from arranging financing to establishing the process to request and reviewing funding applications; this is the role that Renewable Funding plays: we sign contracts with various counties, cities, or municipalities to help them implement and administer these programs.
Once the program is underway, property owners, as well as contractors, need to be made aware of the program and how it works.
WD: Why is it necessary to pass legislation to create PACE programs? What does the legislation consist of?
Unlike some legislation on greenhouse gas reduction which can be controversial, PACE is a great way for government to address climate change; PACE is a low-cost program and it encourages capital investment, creates jobs, and supports energy independence.
WD: Do you feel that there is a lack of understanding about energy efficiency investments?
There is also a need to educate state and local governments, property management firms, local power utilities, architects, and more.
At Renewable Funding, we have been working with legislators, private companies, and industry consortia to provide information on the need for energy efficient projects and the importance of PACE.
WD: How has the recent “debt crisis” affecting the financing of PACE?
We believe that PACE financing does not place lenders at risk, and there’s a lot of evidence to back that up. Several of the large ESCOs (Energy Service Companies) have published studies on this. The Clinton Climate Initiative is also doing a lot of work in this area and has published some documents and recommendations. And many vendors of energy efficient lighting, HVAC, roofing, etc. have also published their own case studies and examples.
Unfortunately, the cloud of the debt crisis has cast a shadow over PACE. Fannie and Freddie [Federal Home Mortgage - Note 2] have challenged the underlying concept of PACE financing for residential properties and this is definitely having an impact on PACE residential financing programs across the country.
However, commercial properties and commercial real estate lending are totally independent of Fannie and Freddie - and this may end up benefiting and accelerating PACE Commercial financing programs - both here in California and across the country. There's lots of discussion around this happening real-time now.
WD: How has Renewable Funding’s experiences prepared it for large scale roll-out?
DT: Renewable Funding’s president, Cisco DeVries, spearheaded the first PACE financing program while working as Chief of Staff under Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. It was then, when looking to finance solar array for his own home, that Cisco was faced with the problem that stymies many green projects: the high upfront cost. This led Cisco to begin laying the groundwork for what would come to be known as CityFIRST, a "turnkey" model that cities could adopt to access on-demand financing for energy projects.
Note 1: Statewide administrator, California First
Note 2: Editor's Note: Last update July 19
Fannie MAE and Freddie MAC stated they would not purchase mortgages with PACE liens attached to them and have advised lenders across the country that PACE programs are risky and inadvisable. California's attorney general, Jerry Brown --- supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger --- sued the U.S. mortgage agencies in an effort to revive PACE. A house bill was also introduced recently to protect PACE programs. Federal legislators forwarded a letter to President Obama that urges him to use his executive authority to resolve issues created by Federal Housing Finance Agency (Fannie and Freddie).
PACE Part 1: Affordable Financing for Green Projects
Our Guest Blogger - William Dinkel
William Dinkel is an avid researcher and blogger on green technologies and energy efficient solutions. Also a passionate sportswriter, William was published on the NYTimes "Off the Dribble" blog. William works at Hewlett-Packard in Silicon Valley, and holds a BS in Computer Engineering from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.
Our PACE expert - Dennis Tsu
Dennis Tsu is a consultant, assisting Renewable Funding in developing the market for PACE Commercial projects - energy efficiency and alternative energy projects on commercial (office, industrial, multi-family residential, mixed-use, hotel/lodging, etc.) properties. He has over 30 years of sales and marketing business experience, including several doing solar PPA development. He has a BA from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.