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Visalia will not keep ‘PACE’ for solar finance program options

Visalia will not keep ‘PACE’ for solar finance program options

More than 500 Visalia homeowners have upgraded their homes using Property Assessed Clean Energy

By John Lindt

Sierra2theSea News Service

VISALIA – On the suggestion of council member Brian Poochigian, the Visalia City Council rescinded permission for home owners in the City to participate in the PACE program on a 4 to 1 vote on May 6.

Now Visalians will no longer have the option to tap several financial institutions who offer money to upgrade homes for energy conservation and solar installation through PACE.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program is a voluntary funding program that enables property owners to finance the installation of renewable energy (like solar), energy efficiency and water efficiency improvements with little or no up-front costs. The financing is paid on property tax bills that are indexed to the useful life of the improvements up to 20 years. The program is used throughout California’s cities and counties.

Tulare County has a similar program that will not be affected.

In Visalia, this is the second time since 2017 that there has been an effort to end participation in the program despite the fact that it costs the city nothing. That year the program was allowed to continue after a hotly contested debate, on a 3 to 2 council vote with Mayor Warren Guebler casting the decisive vote. Guebler has now retired and his seat is occupied by Poochigian.

Brian Poochigian said he opposes PACE because”the city should not be in the business of endorsing a program” and the end of PACE  would still mean ’there are lots of other programs people can sign up for.”

The program that has made it possible for 528 home owners in Visalia to finance energy upgrades since 2014 say the county tax collector.The program is popular across all of Tulare County where 1477 home owners have used the PACE program says tax collector Chief Deputy Paul Sampietro.

Supporters argue that by providing viable financing options to increase the number of rooftop solar systems and energy efficiency projects throughout California, PACE programs serve as an important mechanism to implement California’s energy, environmental and greenhouse gas policy goals. It also creates work for local contractors.

Local roofer and solar installer for PetersonDean, Tim Ramage voiced support for the program arguing “PACE financing has more consumer protections than traditional financing and provides our local community many benefits including being a local job creator.”

But realtors were equally opposed suggesting home owners are having difficulty selling their homes.

Visalia has a relatively high poverty rate of some 20% with about 25,000 owner-occupied homes. Supporters argue that the PACE program allows low to median income home owners to afford the benefits of solar. Some critics suggest the is exactly what is wrong with the program alleging that the PACE program harms many homeowners by making loans that people could not afford to repay. Instead of getting “green” homes, these people may lose their homes to foreclosure argue the critics.

Visalia has three authorized PACE programs: CaliforniaFirst was approved in March of 2013, and the California HERO program was authorized in May of 2014. These two are intended for residential installations.

Poochigian says he has heard complaints from people about PACE who told him “they did not know what they’re signing up for” and didn’t know they would have a lien on their house.

Local tax records show few if any foreclosures in Tulare County. In 2017 the affiliated HERO program had a 98.7 percent on-time repayment rate statewide, and the bank-initiated foreclosure rate on HERO homes was slightly below the California state average.

– John Lindt is the publisher of Sierra2theSea.net, an online newspaper covering California’s Central Valley and Central Coast.

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