Unintended Consequences
Another Green Policy Backfires

Everything has a cost. That’s what many California homeowners are finding out, as they struggle to sell homes recently outfitted with better insulation, more energy efficient windows, and solar panels. Reuters explains:

More than 50,000 California households have signed up for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing since state legislators passed a law in 2008 allowing residents to borrow money for such things as solar panels and energy-efficient windows. The financing method, authorized by cities and counties, and funded  by venture capital-backed startups like Renovate America Inc, Renew Financial LLC and Ygrene Energy Fund Inc, is then paid off through special assessments on property tax bills. […]

[S]ome homeowners trying to sell their houses have found potential buyers scared off by the higher tax assessments. And now realtors in the state are organizing against PACE, saying it makes getting new mortgages much tougher and can leave sellers stuck in their homes.

In other words, to pay for all of those green home improvements, homeowners are saddling themselves with higher property evaluations—and the higher taxes that go with them—which are in turn making it difficult to sell these houses. That’s left a sour taste in the mouths of many who hoped to take advantage of the federal program—as one homeowner enrolled in the green financing program put it, “I wouldn’t ever do it again.”

These sorts of policies are always pushed through with (we hope) the best of intentions, but they inevitably spawn a number of unforeseen issues. In this case, we’re seeing resale issues, but government-backed green programs also lend themselves to crony capitalism or third-party profiteering.

The lesson here isn’t that making homes more energy efficient or powering more homes with renewables are fool’s errands, but rather that the nice-sounding and often politically expedient programs meant to get us to that green utopia have a nasty tendency of backfiring.

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