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Christie Conditionally Vetoes Bill on Renewable Energy, Resiliency

Legislation would have made it easier, more affordable for building owners to install solar panels, increase energy efficiency of their property

energy efficiency

In a move that disappointed advocates, Gov. Chris Christie is recommending a program to help finance clean-energy projects and resiliency improvements be scaled back dramatically before it becomes law.

The legislation, similar to programs now in place in 31 states and the District of Columbia, would allow property owners to obtain private finance through special assessments on their property without any upfront costs to pay for the projects.

Backers of the bill touted it as a way for building owners and homeowners to make their structures more energy efficient and use cleaner sources of energy like solar panels a goal that would reduce emissions contributing to climate change and reduce utility bills.

Christie, however, conditionally vetoed the bill (A-2579) on Monday, saying he had concerns about what role the program, dubbed Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) should have in residential construction. In his veto, he recommended PACE loans be limited to commercial and industrial building and residential properties with five or more units.

The governor’s reservations largely echoed concerns expressed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has threatened legal action in cases in which liens may be placed on properties in which it has an interest.

“Rather than diving headfirst into these murky waters, New Jersey should take a more cautious approach,’’ Christie said in his veto message. He also suggested a limited pilot program involving only 10 municipalities.

Clean energy lobbyists were disappointed in the scaling back of the program to only 10 municipalities.

”That’s the killer,’’ said Lyle Rawlings, president and CEO of Advanced Solar Products, a solar firm based in Flemington. Rawlings said there was a lot of anticipation over the proposed expansion of the PACE program. “It’s a great way to save money and do it with more efficient use of capital,’’ he said.

Rawlings also disputed the concerns raised by Christie relating to the residential sector in his veto message. “Other states are pursuing it with no problems,’’ he said. “They are successful and are growing.’’

Under the program, participating municipalities would arrange full financing for the project through private lenders who would be repaid over terms of up to 30 years by a special assessment on the improved building.

Jonathan Cloud, executive director of NJ PACE, a nonprofit that had pushed the legislation, declined extensive comment on the governor’s action, saying the group wanted to talk to the bill’s sponsors.

“At this point, we have no sense what the Legislature wants to do or can do,’’ Cloud said. Its options include accepting the governor’s recommendations or trying to override his conditional veto.

The bill passed by enough votes in both houses to override the governor, but the measure may not be significant enough for lawmakers to spend the political capital to choose that option, according to some of its advocates.

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