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17 California counties create huge PACE program

Four years ago, federal regulators nearly killed an innovative way to finance home improvements that save energy.

Now that idea is surging back to life.

Known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, the system lets homeowners borrow money for upgrades and pay it back bit-by-bit on their property tax bills. The idea, born in Berkeley in 2008, quickly spread across the country. Many homeowners used it to pay for solar arrays or efficient furnaces.

But in 2010 federal authorities objected, saying PACE posed a risk to mortgage lenders should those homeowners default. While some PACE programs tailored specifically to commercial properties continued, most residential programs stopped cold.

On Tuesday, however, 17 California counties will announce the launch of the nation’s largest PACE program yet, CaliforniaFirst. Backed by a new insurance fund created by the state, they are confident they can put the federal government’s concerns to rest. And cut energy use in the process.

“We always knew that this could be a very powerful tool to help people save energy and save money,” said Cisco DeVries, CEO of Renewable Funding, an Oakland company that will run CaliforniaFirst. “It’s exciting and it’s gratifying to see this come back around.”

The 17 participating counties represent 14 million residents, more than a third of California’s population. Bay Area counties taking part include Alameda, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Solano. San Francisco and Sonoma counties already have their own PACE programs. Read more.


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