Saturday, July 24, 2010

Feds stall county's renewable-energy loan program

Staci Matlock | The New Mexican

"Santa Fe homeowners anxious to retrofit their houses with renewable-energy systems using loans from a ready-to-launch county program will have to wait longer.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency is challenging loan programs that help homeowners cover the initial purchase and installation costs of renewable-energy systems through specially assessed property taxes. The agency's stance has stalled the launch of Santa Fe County's version of a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. Santa Fe legislators who championed a 2009 state law allowing counties to establish the program are angry.

"The FHFA is making a bone-headed decision," said Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

In 2009, the Legislature passed bills drafted by Egolf and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, allowing New Mexico counties to create special assessment tax districts for renewable-energy retrofits. Homeowners can opt into the district, take out a long-term loan to install a solar photovoltaic, solar thermal or other renewable-energy system and pay the loan back through their property taxes. The special assessment in the "renewable energy financing district," only applies to homeowners who want to join the program.

Santa Fe County was ready to launch the state's first renewable-energy financing district this summer. Similar programs are available in 22 other states, according to Wirth. The legislators say special assessments for renewable-energy retrofit loans are little different from special assessments levied on property owners to pay for paving, water systems and other projects.

But FHFA, the agency that regulates Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and a dozen federal home loan banks, took issue with the programs and issued directives that will restrict the kinds of loans homeowners can get if they live in an area that offers a PACE program for renewable-energy retrofits. " More>>>>

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