Archive for October, 2011

Green Job in Tampa

Nelson: Now if it doesn’t get eaten up by corrupt corporations…

The promise of hundreds of new jobs, a major increase in the number of construction companies dedicated to green building and a multimillion dollar economic boost to a community would grab anyone’s attention. For those with environmental priorities, the big reduction of carbon into the atmosphere has significant appeal.

That’s the lure of government-assisted Property Assessed Clean Energy programs, approved in 27 states, including Florida. Ten days ago, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which includes Manatee County, heard a presentation on PACE, and the reaction was predictably positive.

But PACE has run into a roadblock, one that Congress hopes to remove with new legislation.

PACE allows localities to generate capital, primarily through bonds, to finance loans to home and business owners to pay for energy-efficient upgrades to their properties and reduce power bills. Think solar panels, tankless water heaters and highly efficient air conditioners.

The loans would add an assessment on property taxes to ensure repayment over a period of 15 to 20 years. Property owners benefit from little or no upfront costs and energy savings. If the property is sold, the new owner takes over PACE payments.

The program bypasses a tight-fisted private financial market in order to boost economic development and job creation, which explains the widespread appeal among states.

The PACE setback

But last summer, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee about half the nation’s single-family home loans, blocked PACE as too risky for home loans. The mortgage giants’ regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, decreed that since PACE placed a lien on a home that had priority over the mortgage in the event of a default, that violated underwriting standards.

The FHFA ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac not to underwrite mortgages with PACE liens. That directive stifled state programs.

But with rampant enthusiasm for PACE across the country, push-back came quickly — albeit not effectively, yet. A California congressman filed legislation late last year, too late to rise above last-minute rush to vote on bills.

But this year’s PACE Protection Act of 2011 enjoys wide, bipartisan support. And for very good reason. The program has a proven track record of success, as the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council heard. Sonoma County’s retired chief financial officer recounted how PACE created more than 500 “green energy” jobs, a quadrupling of the number of green construction companies and a $45 million jolt of the area’s economy. Plus, all those energy-saving projects spared the atmosphere of 1,400 tons of carbon.

What’s not to like?

Manatee County Commission Chair Carol Whitmore and Bradenton sustainability manager Benjamin Bird expressed enthusiasm for PACE. We wholeheartedly agree.

Support for clean energy

While the Obama administration stumbled badly by investing $535 million in government loan guarantees to Solyndra, the California solar-panel manufacturer went bankrupt only because China flooded the market with cheaper panels after the price of silicon plunged.

Solyndra’s panels, built of lightweight, curved film, were not made of silicon and had been less expensive to produce — until the silicon price drop. Plus, China’s solar-panel industry enjoys massive government subsidies, and thus a major competitive advantage — to Solyndra’s demise.

This should not deter American support for clean energy and government help in promoting the industry. A reduction in the country’s dependence on foreign oil and pollution as well as job creation and economic development should be our focus.

This year America’s solar industry employs some 100,000 workers, double the number from 2009. Projections show that figure improving five-fold in five years.

The PACE program will help spur that employment by expanding the market to more Americans, a more worthwhile government-assisted effort than risky investments in companies themselves.

Congress should move swiftly on removing barriers to PACE. And Manatee County should be poised to implement a PACE program after passage of that legislation.

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