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PACE: How Protecting Our Environment Can Help Our Economy

California has been a guiding light in our nation’s economic recovery. Our state now leads the nation in economic growth and has cut the unemployment rate in half since 2011. California’s clean energy sector, propelled by policies adopted by Governor Jerry Brown and the State Legislature, has turned out to be an important part of this success. California’s solar industry, for example, now employs more than 100,000 people, almost double the number of people who work for all the state’s electric utilities combined.

One of the most important policies helping California build a clean energy future is Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). This program enables local property owners to finance the total cost of certain efficiency and clean energy upgrades – like solar panels and efficient heating and cooling systems – and then repay those costs through their property tax bills. By removing the barrier of high up-front costs and providing longer repayment term options that lower the effective monthly payment, PACE is making it easier for Californians to make smart investments that reduce their energy and water use. PACE programs have now expanded to 50 out of 58 counties in the state and are available to the majority of Californians.

While the environmental benefits of the residential PACE program in California are clear – with greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to removing 1.7 million cars from our roads – PACE is also serving as an economic stimulus program that rivals the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in clean energy jobs and investment, but without using any taxpayer money. While the taxpayer-funded ARRA directed $2.59 billion to support grants, tax credits and other funding across a variety of California’s clean energy sectors, the privately-administered residential PACE programs have now financed $2.77 billion in home efficiency upgrades. PACE has also outpaced ARRA in clean energy job creation, helping add 28,500 in-state jobs compared to the 17,000 clean energy jobs the federal stimulus package helped create in California.

Most importantly, Californians are seeing real benefits. Without spending taxpayer money, residential PACE is responsible for financing home upgrades for 125,000 California homes. Last year alone, 65,000 California homeowners benefitted from $1.57 billion in PACE-funded efficiency improvements. Collectively, these homeowners can expect to save about $2 billion on future utility bills. That’s extra money in the pockets of hardworking homeowners across California. As this important program expands, it’s critical we continue to do everything we can to protect consumers.

As of January 1, thanks to Governor Brown and the State Legislature, a new law now requires that PACE providers extend the same level of disclosure to customers as mortgage lenders do, including a three day right for any customer to cancel a contract. These protections make the PACE program even stronger. For California to continue to lead our nation out of the recession and toward a clean and efficient energy future, our state must remain a leader in PACE financing, for the sake of our residents, our economy and our environment.

David Hochschild is a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency.

Note: this op-ed originally appeared in The Energy Collective.

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