Even After Installing Extra Insulation, the FHFA Proposed Rule on PACE Leaves Homeowners Out in the Cold

 Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a property assessment used to finance the upfront costs of energy efficiency upgrades.  A local government provides funding, and the assessment is paid back as a line item on a property’s tax bill.

PACE became a controversial issue in 2010, when the Federal Home Finance Authority (FHFA), the regulator of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, issued an order prohibiting Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from purchasing mortgages with PACE assessments on them. The concern was that, as property tax assessments, the PACE loans would have priority over the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae-backed mortgages, so the PACE loans would get repaid first out of any foreclosure sale proceeds.

FHFA proposed a rule on PACE financing on June 15, and is available for download here. The FHFA has not changed its position, and the proposed rule is a blanket prohibition on purchasing mortgages on PACE encumbered properties, and from consenting to PACE liens on properties with existing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backed mortgages. The argument is that the threat of default is immeasurable, and the environmental benefits difficult to calculate, so it is not worth the risk.  If the FHFA rule becomes final, PACE is dead. Comments on the rule are open until the end of July. 

If the FHFA rule goes into effect, what happens to the homeowners who already took PACE loans?  Many communities have had PACE programs in place for some time.  The FHFA rule will certainly prevent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from backing loans when those homes are sold unless the PACE loan is paid off.  Likewise, the PACE loan will have to be paid off if the home is refinanced. This will be an ugly surprise for those homeowners that took a PACE loan specifically because it was transferable with the property. 

More concerning is whether the FHFA rule could be read to require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to call the mortgages on properties with a PACE assessment.  The proposed rule states that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are required to:

immediately  take such actions as are necessary to secure and/or preserve their right to make immediately due the full amount of any obligation secured by a mortgage that becomes, without the consent of the mortgage holder, subject to a first lien PACE obligation.

In other words, if you take on a PACE loan, you have to pay off your mortgage. 

The rule doesn't specifically address retroactive application of the rule, but the phrase "becomes...subject to a...PACE obligation" seems to be proactive, as opposed to retroactive. With a hammer as big as calling a mortgage, however,  the final FHFA should specifically state that it does not apply to existing PACE loans. 

Progress on the Green Appraisal Front--Appraisal Institute Issues Green Appraisal Form

On September 29, 2011, the Appraisal Institute issued a Green/Energy Efficiency Addendum to its standard Fannie Mae Form 1004.  The form has sections for including energy efficient appliances, water savings, energy audit results, energy bills and more.  It can be downloaded here

According to the release by the Appraisal Institute, Form 1004 is "the appraisal industry’s most widely used form for mortgage lending purposes. Used by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration, Form 1004 is completed by appraisers to uphold safe and sound lending. Currently, the contributory value of a home’s green features is rarely part of the equation.

One notable omission is a specific reference to LEED certification.  It includes Energy Star, but not LEED, although there is space for listing "other"  certification. 

This kind of standard form for valuing green features gives specific guidance for appraisers on what to look for and include in the audit.  How the information translates into valuation remains to be seen, but it is an excellent step in the right direction.

Part 2 of Green Finance--Alternative Financing Mechanisms For Green Projects

Because of the enormous popularity of last week's post on green project finance--Let's Make A Deal--Top 10 Rules Of Green Project Finance--I have decided to do a series on the various aspects of green project finance. 

Today we will discuss alternative financing mechanisms for green projects.  Over the next few weeks, I will do posts on incentives available for green projects, an update on the PACE controversy, and the basics of renewable energy finance.  If you have suggestions for other posts you would like to see as part of this series, feel free to email me. 

Please note, I am not a finance professional, and the goal of these posts is simply to give a high-level overview of potential financing mechanisms.  As with all financial decisions, please consult your financial professional and attorney for advice specific to your project.  And now, without further adieu, a primer on alternative green financing mechanisms.

Basically, there are only a few mechanisms for financing projects.  Self-finance (your bank account); equity finance (someone else's bank account); debt finance (the bank); government finance (Uncle Sam's bank account); and grant finance (your parents' third party bank accounts). 

These basic mechanisms are no different for green projects.  However, there are some interesting variants that have developed for financing green projects of various types. Many of the financing concepts are not mutually exclusive.  To the extent that one of the models, like energy efficient mortgages, is applicable mostly to a specific sector, it can be used as a model for a specific project's financing arrangement with a particular financier. 


For commercial scale (and even residential) green and renewable energy projects, variants on leases have become an interesting project financing model. Essentially, a provider leases the equipment (typically  to the owner of a facility through a long term lease), which reduces the up front costs.

There are a wide variety of leases available, and the decision among which lease is the best solution is largely based on tax and payment considerations.  Most leases radically reduce or eliminate up front costs.  Some leases allow the lessee to take advantage of the tax incentives, renewable energy credits and depreciation on the green equipment, others do not. 

For a great overview of lease variants for renewable energy projects, see here.

Performance Contracting

Performance contracting is essentially a loan from the provider of the green/renewable equipment (known as an Energy Services Company, or ESCO) that is paid for out of the savings or benefits of the green project.  For example, suppose you want to install energy efficient improvements on a facility which will cost $1000 and will save $100 per year.  Typically, the ESCO arranges the financing, and you pay the ESCO through reduced energy bills, sharing the energy cost savings over a predetermined length of time, after which all of the energy savings revert to you.  The ESCO often guarantees the energy savings from the project. This mechanism is used for both energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and can be used with projects of almost any scale. The DOE has a handbook on performance contracting available here.

Grants In Lieu

 As part of the Stimulus bill, the Department of Treasury made available "1603 grants" which are grants in lieu of tax credits which reimburse up to 30% of the cost of installing certain renewable energy projects. Environmental Leader summarizes the 1603 grant program here:

The grant is 30 percent of the full cost of the intended solar system. Without the grant, system owners could still claim the 30 percent as a tax credit, but some businesses weren’t profitable enough to make use of the full tax credit. This grant now keeps all businesses eligible for the 30 percent incentive, not just those with enough profits (or those with financing partners with enough profits).

The full description of the program is available from the Department of Treasury.

 Energy-Efficient Mortgages And Energy Improvement Mortgages

A form of debt financing, energy efficient mortgages (and their friend, Energy Improvement Mortgages) work on the premise that implementing energy efficiencies on a property will free up cash which can pay down a debt.  The Department of Energy has a great handbook and other resources available here. HUD has qualifications guidelines, approved lenders, etc. available here.

Mortgageloan.com has a nice overview here:

Green, or “Energy efficient” mortgages, let you borrow extra money to pay for energy efficient upgrades to your current home or a new or old home that you plan to buy. The result is a more environmentally friendly living space that uses fewer resources for heating and cooling and has dramatically lower utility costs...At this time, Energy Efficient Mortgages aren’t second mortgages. Though they are created separately from your primary mortgage, they are ultimately rolled into your primary mortgage—so you only make only one payment per month.

Technically, energy efficient mortgages:

give borrowers the opportunity to finance cost-effective, energy-saving measures as part of a single mortgage and stretch debt-to-income qualifying ratios on loans thereby allowing borrowers to qualify for a larger loan amount and a better, more energy-efficient home.

And energy improvement mortgages:

are used for existing homes and allow borrowers to include the cost of energy-efficiency improvements in the mortgage without increasing the down payment.

The problem with energy efficient mortgages is that they are pretty small scale. For example, the FHA program only backs EEMs for one to four units.



Nudging Towards Green Communities

I wrote last week about LEED-ND, the new USGBC product for creating sustainable neighborhoods.  LEED-ND and its predecessors like New Urbanism are private sector attempts to make sustainable, walkable communities more marketable. In theory, everyone should want to live in communities where services are readily available, where streetscapes are conducive to community building and where green spaces are an integrated part of the landscape. 

The reality has been more mixed. Mixed-use, well planned developments are more expensive to build, and often have difficult land approval processes which stretch out the development timeframe. There are criticisms about increased density, school costs and other issues. 

But, there is a policy mechanism which could be implemented to radically shift development patterns in the United States towards more sustainable communities without imposing external structures like LEED-ND or New Urbanism.  One of the sacred cows of tax policy in the United States is the mortgage interest tax deduction.  In most cases, all mortgage interest can be deducted from U.S. federal taxes.  What if the mortgage interest tax deduction were phased out for development on the periphery?  Development around transit nodes, in mixed use areas and in areas which are ripe for redevelopment (Camden?) could qualify for the deduction, development in ex-urban areas would not qualify, or qualify for a lower deduction.  Would this policy "nudge" work to transform our built environment and lead to the rapid development of sustainable communities? Is it even politically possible given the "sacred cow" nature of the mortgage interest deduction?