In July, the San Diego County assessor announced that assessed property values fell by $568 million from last year. As a result, the county has issued tax refunds totaling $10.6 million, hurting our schools, impacting public jobs and undercutting public programs — which are needed now more than ever.
As president and CEO of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce, I’ve worked with San Diego’s business community for more than 20 years. While today’s economic climate is challenging, I see a golden opportunity for the private sector to invest in improving property values and jobs for all San Diegans through clean energy.
The San Diego region has begun to embrace financing programs called Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) that can kickstart the economy through clean energy upgrades. Here’s how the programs work: commercial and residential property owners apply for financing to perform upgrades, anything from installing solar panels to upgrading to less power-hungry air conditioners. Owners pay back the funds through an increment to their property taxes, which can be easily passed to the next owner if the property is sold. Energy bill savings start immediately, and in almost all cases they’re guaranteed to exceed the cost of the investment. The most effective models, such as the program operated by Ygrene Energy Fund, are funded privately, without a dime of public money.
The potential benefits are enormous. By investing in energy upgrades, these financing programs boost property values while reducing their energy costs. Installation projects create jobs that can’t be outsourced, helping to restart the hard-hit construction industry. And installing more clean energy reduces our dependence on foreign oil while expanding San Diego’s clean energy leadership.
According to Ygrene — which is bringing clean energy financing to Miami, Sacramento and several other municipalities across the country — each $10 million spent on energy retrofits creates in 150 jobs, $25 million in economic activity and $2.5 million in tax revenue. In the city of San Diego alone, retrofitting just 3.5 percent of properties over five years would propel the economy upwards by creating 14,000 new jobs, $2.5 billion in economic activity and increase state and local tax revenue by $100 million. Simply put, these programs are some of the most exciting government initiatives I’ve ever seen.
While we’re off to a good start, we can do a whole lot better. These programs offer tremendous upside, but the particulars of each program vary widely, and make a significant difference. For example, several cities in the San Diego region currently have a clean energy financing programs in place, but unfortunately those programs haven’t completed a single project here or anywhere else in the United States. Compare this with Sonoma County’s program, which is a fraction of the size of San Diego but already has 1,700 projects under its belt. That’s the future San Diego deserves.
Not all PACE programs are created equal, and there’s no reason municipalities across San Diego should settle for a less effective program. Join me in calling on San Diego to embrace a clean energy funding program that works, and get San Diego’s economy roaring again.
David Steel is the CEO of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce.
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