King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove said it well: “Local governments like King County have, I believe, a moral responsibility to future generations and that’s a responsibility to reduce the pollution that’s causing climate change.” Unfortunately, that responsibility to decarbonize isn’t always baked in, even when it comes to local jurisdictions’ available clean energy financing mechanisms.

Washington’s 2020 state law for Commercial Property-Assessed Clean Energy and Resiliency (C-PACER), for example, allows jurisdictions to sidestep the climate-cutting responsibility by leveraging clean energy financing for projects that continue to use dirty fossil fuels. But the King County Council has adopted a better model: On November 16, the council unanimously passed a new ordinance that greenlights a fossil fuel-free C-PACER program, with a key amendment that syncs up this creative financing tool with the county’s climate goals.

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  • As Sightline advocated, King County tightened up the definition of a “qualified improvement” for C-PACER financing to exclude equipment that burns fossil fuels.

    King County tightened up the definition of a “qualified improvement” for C-PACER financing to exclude equipment that burns fossil fuels.

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    State law allows counties to align their C-PACER programs to county climate action goals which is exactly what the county has done in passing Ordinance 2021-0301.2, limiting the use of King County’s C-PACER program by explaining, “…the installation, maintenance or repair of equipment that burns fossil fuels is not allowed…” King County is the fourth county in Washington to pass an ordinance this year establishing a C-PACER program, following Whatcom, Clark, and Thurston counties.

    C-PACER programs, at a basic level, are an important tool to advance decarbonization in buildings because they provide a low-risk and low-cost financing solution for funding the improvements needed to drive down a building’s carbon emissions. Sadly, the definitions in the state law allow the use of C-PACER loans to finance fossil fuel-combusting equipment if it replaces equipment that is less energy efficient or exceeds minimum energy code. Whatcom, Clark, and Thurston counties did not opt to exclude fossil fuel equipment from their programs, and instead mirrored the definition of “qualified improvements” provided by the state.

    Fortunately, transforming Washington’s county-level C-PACER financing programs into engines of decarbonization like King County has done is easily accomplished with small changes to state law. State lawmakers can revisit the 2020 law and restrict fossil fuel equipment under C-PACER.  And now, thanks to King County, legislators have a template to follow.