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Posted on Sun, Feb 28, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

Michigan must keep PACE on home energy efficiency

By Guest Column

What was your home heating bill last month? Was it $300, $400, maybe even $500?

All around us, there is much buzz about the green economy. From clean energy projects to advanced batteries, Michigan is properly branding itself as a world capitol of innovation and green technology. Catching the clean energy wave is just the kind of sensible “big idea” that Michigan needs to reboot our economy and leverage our industrial and intellectual assets. However, all of the branding in the world won’t help if we don’t take concrete action to green our economy.

Talk is cheap; but, thankfully it turns out that action is even cheaper. Allow us to explain:

The simplest, cleanest and most cost effective clean energy program possible is energy conservation. That’s right; the greenest energy is the energy that we never use. Often lost in the buzz around wind and solar, energy conservation is by far the most sensible and easy means to: save money for Michigan families, reduce pollution, and put thousands of people back to work immediately. Installing new insulation, energy efficient windows and more efficient lighting are all tactics that we can employ right now to jumpstart our economy and save money today. So, why haven’t we picked this “low hanging fruit” already?

Easy and affordable energy efficiency projects are usually not implemented because the up-front costs of making the improvements are onerous, especially during uncertain economic times. Even families that are doing well are hesitant to spend their savings in a tough economy. Also, borrowing is especially difficult in this environment with some second mortgages pushing 8 percent in interest. However, most energy efficiency investments pay themselves off in energy savings in less than 10 years. In short, financing remains the one challenge that stands between many Michigan homeowners and lower energy bills.

Fortunately, together with Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and a coalition of clean energy and green economy advocates, we are on the path to overcome this final stumbling block with the introduction of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) enabling legislation. Sponsored by Rep. Rebekah Warren, House Bill 5640 will authorize local governments and citizens to engage in a voluntary program to finance energy efficiency improvements through future taxes and the use of special assessments.

Here’s how this program would work: (1) a property owner would contact the city or county; (2) an energy audit will identify the highest value energy efficiency improvements; (3) a financing plan will be agreed to between the government and the property owner stipulating the cost of the improvements and the appropriate rate of the special assessment needed to refund the community over time; and (4) the improvements will be made, saving money and reducing pollution immediately.

The program can be flexible to meet community needs, but most energy audits show that residents can save more money every year in their energy bills than they will pay annually for the improvements - making this a genuine win-win proposition. When the costs are paid off, the homeowner will stop paying the special assessment, but continue to enjoy the benefits of an improved and more efficient home. At the same time, property taxes will remain unchanged for those who choose not to participate in the program.

Sixteen states from every region and of all political persuasions now have this enabling legislation in place: California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin. These states are united on this issue because they realize, like us, that this is an opportunity to not only preserve our environment, but also provide you the tools to save your hard-earned money.

So when you open your home heating bill this month, don’t just put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat - call your legislators and let them know that you support HB 5640.

Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, is a Washtenaw County commissioner, and Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, represents the 53rd District in the Michigan State House of Representatives.



Sat, Apr 24, 2010 : 3:43 a.m.

Energy-saving windows can also be another choice. Aside from the above reasons, energy-efficient windows are practical and eco-friendly. For example, having your windows tinted could save more on electric bills, at the same time caring for the environment as we lessen the carbon emission in out atmosphere. You can find out more about window film at They can answer the question you need to know regarding window film.

Hot Sam

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 6:45 a.m.

One of the biggest mistakes many people make is to believe that government always needs to be "doing" something. There is no such thing as "free money", and programs like this are a perfect example. As soon as you make these improvements to your home, the tax assessor will be there to determine your increase. If these "programs" are so viable, and default rates are so low, and the results pay for themselves, then why aren't citizens and banks working together to do the same thing? If you want to stimulate the building trades, how about not increasing assessments on improvements? Government needs to make and enforce the rules, not play in the game. Their won loss record is horrible.


Tue, Mar 2, 2010 : 11:13 p.m.

This program is not free money. The homeowner simply has an option to pay for the improvements over time. If they default on the payments, there is a lien on the property as recourse for the loan. Several studies have shown that these types of front-end financing programs for home energy efficiency have some of the lowest default rates of all types of loans, and the highest payback rate for the assets, since an efficient and comfortable home is worth more than it's non-improved counterparts. It's important to note that Michigan needs to get in on this action lest we lag behind in yet another category, energy-efficiency retrofits. There will be significant money flowing into this sector over the next few decades, and this will go to states that have good programs in place and a trained workforce. It would be a travesty for Michigan to continue being regressive with regard to energy policies when there are so many much-needed jobs at stake. If Michigan does not show leadership in this arena, we will simply lose out on a lot of jobs and a lot of federal money. Not to mention that our citizens will continue to spend more on energy bills and less in our shops and restaurants. Since almost all of the money Michiganians spend on energy leaves the state, about $30 billion per year (!), it's really a double-whammy for us not to develop energy-efficiency programs that are second to none. Please support PACE legislation and tell your representatives to support it as well. And thanks Rebekah Warren for introducing this legislation! Doug

Hot Sam

Tue, Mar 2, 2010 : 1:44 p.m.

When someone who get's the loan and doesn't pay it back, then those of us who play by the rules get what we always get...the bill! There is a system in place for this kind of's called a bank!


Mon, Mar 1, 2010 : 9 a.m.

The way I understand PACE, it effectively allows property owners in their respective districts to borrow money to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements. This program will surely encourage a lot of people to pursue energy efficient products which will save money and care for the environment. "Green" oriented sites such as are also doing their share in helping others in pursuing green living. They discuss how window tints can be labeled as one of the most effective ways to conserve energy consumption, in our home, office or car, it is a practical way to save money from energy bills while caring for the environment. Window tints are cost-effective, energy-efficient and definitely eco-friendly.

Jeff Irwin

Sun, Feb 28, 2010 : 1:13 p.m.

I'm excited about this opportunity to improve homes, save money and reduce pollution. This is exactly the kind of sensible policy that Lansing can come together on to improve our economic situation - and it doesn't cost the state a dime. Thank you to all of the folks who have been helping to bring this legislation forward; and, special thanks go out to the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, specifically Eric Jamison, who wrote the initial draft of the bill that Rep. Warren is shepherding through the House of Representatives.


Sun, Feb 28, 2010 : 8:47 a.m.

Doesn't the historic committee always say no when people want to install energy efficient windows? That doesn't seem to make any sense.