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County loan program for energy projects gets high grades

By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s program for financing energy efficiency projects has grown to 770 residential and commercial projects totalling $24 million in loans in just one year of operation, its organizers announced Friday.

The $24 million in financing far exceeds the goal of $10 million local officials expected since the launch of the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program, or SCEIP, last year.

The program allows property owners to borrow money at 7 percent interest for energy-efficiency improvements and pay it back in installments on their property tax bills.

State and county officials, local energy conservationists and renewable energy entrepreneurs marked the first anniversary of SCEIP (pronounced “skype”) at a Friday press conference at Kunde Family Estates in Kenwood.

There, officials showcased a 1,000-square-foot solar thermal heating system that was primarily financed through a $100,000, 10-year loan through SCEIP.

The system, which uses solar panels and a heat exchange system to heat water, is expected to save the winery $95,000 in natural gas costs over the next 30 years.

“Their natural gas bills will fall through the floor,” said Stuart Smits, CEO of Citizen Green Solutions, the Santa Rosa company that designed and installed Kunde’s heating system.

Smits said that eventually the Kunde winemaking process will use 80 percent less natural gas. In addition, a combination of government cash-back grants, tax breaks and a PG&E rebate will help cover the cost of Kunde’s investment within four years, Smits said.

SCEIP was made possible by AB 811, legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008. AB 811 gave cities and counties the authority to finance loans through a property tax assessment.

“You use your taxes to just pay for your system, that’s the beauty of it,” said Kunde, adding that he could not have made such an investment otherwise.

The inspiration for AB 811 came from modest financing programs in Berkeley and Palm Desert. But when Sonoma County announced last spring that its program would launch with a pot of $100 million, the world took notice.

At the Kunde event, State Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda Adams said SCEIP has become a global model for financing energy efficiency projects. Like many at the event, Adams stressed the importance of evolving toward a green-based economy.

“In today’s economy, we need jobs,” she said. “The green job sector is growing 10 percent faster than all other sectors in California.”

Half of SCIEP’s $100 million came from the Sonoma County general fund and the other half came from the Sonoma County Water Agency. Rod Dole, the county’s treasurer and tax assessor, said he hopes future funding streams will come from the sale of tax-exempt bonds, which should lead to more favorable interest rates.

SCEIP-financed projects include energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy generation. To qualify, projects must be permanently attached to the property.

Acceptable projects include insulation, cool roofing, heating and air conditioning systems, waterless urinals, solar panels and energy efficient windows. Dishwashers and other appliances are not allowed.





4 Responses to “County loan program for energy projects gets high grades”

  1. Dan says:

    There is a lasting value created green energy loans for renewable energy, and benefits go beyond the client to the community, in the form of better air quality and job creation.

    The program is available for anyone and it is not charity. Property owners (including apartment owners) can volunteer to participate and pay back the loan at interest. Most utilities provide rebates for energy efficient appliances.

    Re: ‘gas guzzlers in the ghetto’. It is obviously voluntary for citizens to buy the vehicles they chose.

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  2. KRH says:

    Steve is ill-informed.

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  3. Pete says:

    Steve is right. I’d rather see 24 million bucks spent saving the failing homes in this county. We can save your solar stuff for later.

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  4. Steve says:

    “You use your taxes to just pay for your system, that’s the beauty of it,” said Kunde, adding that he could not have made such an investment otherwise.

    All of these “green” programs, as well as most of the Fed’s stimulus money, is for the affluent. Where’s the project that provides solar to apartment houses, or energy efficient washers and dryers to laundromats? How about replacing gas guzzlers in the ghettos that have some of the worst air quality in the nation?

    This all just food stamps for the rich.

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