Lawsuit Threatens to Take Away Millions in Funding for California Clean Energy

Today, the Superior Court in Riverside County dealt a major blow to an innovative program spearheaded by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that is set to save Californians money on their energy bills, spur local economies, create jobs, and maintain California’s leadership in pioneering win-win policies to tackle climate change. 

Developed through an unprecedented collaboration between state agencies, utilities, local governments and the private sector, Energy Upgrade California provides a one-stop shop to enable Californians to take advantage of the money-saving opportunities of a home energy retrofit.  The program is leveraging funds from a variety of programs, including $33 million in federal stimulus dollars earmarked to boost energy efficiency here in California. 

Today the Riverside Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the CEC from disbursing the $33 million allotment.  The controversy concerns the process the CEC undertook to allocate the funds, but the stakes are much higher – if the federal dollars are not released by October 21, California could lose out on the funding altogether.

The lawsuit, brought by the Western Riverside Council of Governments, contests the CEC’s award of $33 million in federal stimulus funding to help establish Energy Upgrade California.  With the support of the U.S. Department of Energy, the CEC had earlier earmarked the federal funds to help California cities and counties set up programs to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy investments, known as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs.  

The Federal Housing Finance Agency and another federal regulator stopped residential PACE programs in their tracks in July, however, by issuing directives that incorrectly called into question key aspects of PACE programs.  As a result, the Department of Energy instructed states receiving federal stimulus funding to consider alternatives to PACE programs. To avoid losing out on the federal funding, the CEC undertook a thorough and transparent public process to reallocate the stimulus funds to the newly developed Energy Upgrade California program.

FHFA’s actions to halt PACE programs are illegal, unwarranted and have frozen a promising new financing vehicle to jumpstart clean energy investments.  NRDC, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, several counties and other stakeholders have sued the federal government to seek a reversal of this damaging position.  But the outcome of these challenges may not be known for some time.  The CEC’s action clearly was compelled by the change in the legal climate surrounding PACE programs and the threatened loss of federal stimulus money. 

As a key piece of the funding supporting Energy Upgrade California, the $33 million in stimulus funds currently tied up in litigation is expected to treat over 52,000 homes over the next three years, with savings of more than 17.5 gigawatt hours, which will avoid more than 7,600 metric tons of global warming pollution – the equivalent of reducing the emissions from more than 1,600 passenger cars in California for one year.  In the process, the program will generate sorely needed economic activity and create jobs in local communities here in California. 

Energy Upgrade California offers an innovative and comprehensive opportunity for all Californians, including the residents of Riverside, to reap the benefits of saving energy and promote the economic benefits of the emerging clean energy economy.  

It’s bad enough that FHFA’s actions have halted the momentum of PACE efficiency financing programs for the rest of the country, and we cannot afford to let yet another promising energy and water saving program go to waste in California where there’s money to be saved and jobs to be created. We simply cannot afford to lose $33 million in federal funding.