Community wind projects deliver larger economic returns and encounter less local resistance, but a new report released last week shows that developing community wind still requires a daunting effort. The report, by Lawrence Berkeley Labs wind guru Mark Bolinger, illustrates the new heights of financial acrobatics required to finance community wind projects. The history of… Continue reading
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About John Farrell
John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. More
Late last year, the Federal Housing Administration announced a new PowerSaver loan program to provide financing for home energy efficiency improvements. The program comes on the heels of the downfall of residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, which allowed homeowners to pay back energy efficiency improvements via long-term property tax payments, as well as to pass the payments on to the next homeowner. Can PowerSaver adequately replace PACE?
First, a bit of background on PowerSaver. The loan program is part of FHA’s Title I Property Improvement Program and the basic principle is that the FHA provides loan insurance for participating private lenders who loan to eligible homeowners. Federal insurance provides 90% coverage for the loan, with the lender only accountable for the remaining 10%, with limits on the portion of a lender’s portfolio in the Title I program. Participating homeowners pay a premium equal to 1% of the loan amount multiplied by the loan term. For example, a $10,000 loan financed over 15 years would have an annual premium of $1,500.
Loans are capped at $25,000 with 15 year terms for energy efficiency and 20 year terms for renewable energy investments. A list of eligible improvements can be found here. Borrower’s can only be owners of single-family, detached homes with a 660 credit score and a maximum 45% debt-to-income ratio. Loans under $7,500 can be unsecured, but larger loan amounts must be secured by the first mortgage.
The following table illustrates the major differences between PACE and PowerSaver:
|Backstop||Federal insurance||Local government|
|Credit score||> 660||n/a|
In most cases, the differences make the PowerSaver loan significantly less attractive than PACE financing. A PACE lien came before the mortgage, potentially allowing PACE programs to sell their obligations on the market and allowing local governments to obtain low interest rates. PACE liens did not require credit scores, allowing many Americans with damaged credit (but good property tax payment history) to make their home more energy efficiency and cost effective. Finally, the lien could be transferred between property owners, removing the discontinuity between the lifespan of effective energy efficiency improvements (15 years) and the average stay in one home (5 years).
Perhaps most powerfully, PACE allowed cities and counties to become a hub of energy planning for their communities, whereas PowerSaver simply backstops the private lending market.
FHA should be applauded for expanding the financing options available to homeowners for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements, but their offering will not provide the same power as PACE.
I talked with Al Weinrub as he wrote this report and I think it’s another great demonstration of the cost and local economic superiority of distributed renewable energy generation. Commuity Power helps overturn the conventional wisdom that bigger is better, illustrating how decentralized, distributed renewable energy can provide a cost-effective and economy-boosting strategy for meeting our power needs.
From the media release:
Community Power argues that local, decentralized generation of electricity offers many benefits to California’s communities relative to large central-station solar or wind power plants in remote areas.
It identifies the factors that favor local decentralized generation of electricity: its economic benefits to local communities, its cost-effectiveness, its minimization of environmental impacts, its potential to rapidly meet renewable energy targets, and its increased system security. The paper also identifies obstacles to local renewable power and outlines policies that can promote its development.
Community Power reflects the reality that all electric power is not equal: the impact of electric power production on our ecosystem and on our communities depends on the economic, environmental, political, and social conditions under which the electricity is produced. And from this perspective, the impacts on our communities of remote central-station renewable power and local decentralized renewable power are very different indeed.
To get the full story, download Community Power by clicking here.
The batteries and the solar cells themselves are something like shock absorbers for the grid. If drivers want to charge up their cars during peak periods on the grid, the charging station’s batteries will meet part of that demand so that the impact on the grid is milder. Likewise, the solar cells will chip in with some energy, lessening the load on the grid.
“If with new technologies we can control these resources on the distribution side, we can eliminate the need for potentially very expensive upgrades to the distribution system,” said James A. Ellis, the senior manager for transportation and infrastructure at the T.V.A.’s Technology Innovation Organization.
Although both produce electricity from the sun, there are significant differences between solar PV and concentrating solar thermal electricity generation. This FAQ provides answers to the most pressing questions about the two solar technologies. 1. Isn’t concentrating solar power cheaper? No. Five years ago the two technologies were relatively comparable, but in 2011 there’s no… Continue reading
While California lumbers forward with a high-cost, controversial solar strategy built around remote utility-scale solar thermal plants, with the hope that 10,000 megawatts can be built in ten years, Germany is demonstrating now that 10,000 megawatts of distributed PV can be added in only three years.
Updated 1/28/11: Talk about distributed generation! In Germany in 2009, nearly 1 in 5 solar PV systems went on residential rooftops and 60% was installed on small to medium residential or commercial buildings.
The absolute numbers are big, too. Germany installed nearly 9 gigawatts installed 3 gigawatts of solar in 2009, to reach 9 gigawatts of installed capacity.
The blog Camino Energy has a very detailed analysis of the payback on an electric vehicle (Nissan Leaf) compared to a conventional Toyota Camry. The author looks specifically at Northern California, where off-peak electricity prices are low enough that utilities could offer electric vehicle (EV) charging at 5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). At that rate, with solely night-time charging of the EV and driving 12,000 miles a year, a Nissan Leaf pays back in 5 years.
The author provides a sensitivity analysis against higher electricity prices, and his entire post is worth reading.
Joining Ontario and several U.S. states, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia has proposed a new twist on a common clean energy program. The policy provides a guaranteed, long-term contract for wind, biomass, hydro, and tidal power producers and offers them the same return on equity provided to utiltiies. Continue reading