By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two Sonoma County officials are headed to Washington, D.C. today to lobby for a county program that helps finance home and commercial energy retrofits.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents the Santa Rosa area, and Rod Dole, the county’s auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector, plan to spend two days speaking with federal representatives about the county’s Energy Independence Program.
The 16-month-old effort was restarted last week after being suspended to new applications July 6 when a federal agency said such programs — authorized in 22 states — were too risky for the government-backed mortgage holders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The programs, known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, depend on repayment of retrofit money through property tax liens that take priority over a mortgage if a homeowner defaults.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency said the arrangement presented significant risk to the mortgage giants and directed them to tighten their underwriting standards for new mortgages tied to PACE programs.
But county officials say no local PACE participants have defaulted on their mortgage, and that the actual money at stake in any such case isn’t that much. In a foreclosure on a home with $10,000 worth of energy improvements, for example, the county would seek only back taxes — $500, plus interest, for each year of unmade payments — and not the full amount of the project debt, according to officials.
“We plan to educate them about the facts and the safeguards we have in place here in Sonoma County,” said Dole.
So far, meetings have been set up with staff of the Senate Banking Committee and Senator Barbara Boxer’s office. Dole also said he hopes to meet with Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.
Thompson last week introduced legislation that would force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to adopt underwriting standards that would accommodate retrofit programs and prevent the mortgage giants from discriminating against communities with such programs. The bill has been referred to the House Financial Services Committee.
As part of their pitch, Dole said he and Zane also plan to make the case that the county’s PACE program, and others like it across the nation, have created hundreds of jobs and spurred investment in energy efficiency.
In Sonoma County, about $30 million has been loaned for more than 1,000 residential and commercial projects, including window and door upgrades, renewable power systems and water-saving projects.