Almanac

News - March 3, 2010

Pilot project offers financing option for greening homes

by Dave Boyce

An invitation for financing help from the state government will be coming soon to local property owners who want to improve energy efficiency, and eventually water efficiency, at their homes and businesses.

CaliforniaFIRST, a pilot program, will give property owners access to financing from bonds issued by the state on behalf of 14 counties.

The counties, including San Mateo County, pooled $16.5 million in federal stimulus funds and engaged Oakland-based Renewable Funding Corp. to get the program up and running, Woodside Assistant Town Manager Kevin Bryant said in an interview.

It has been well received. The Woodside and Portola Valley councils recently approved resolutions affirming their participation, as have councils in Menlo Park, Atherton and most other cities and towns in San Mateo County, Mr. Bryant said.

Starting sometime this summer, residents in participating cities and towns can apply for financing of $5,000 to $75,000. Commercial maximums will be based on property value.

The pilot program includes Bay Area counties Alameda, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Solano counties. Later on, any California city or county can participate. Go to is.gd/97rhF for more information.

Under the plan, the state and a property owner enter into a contract for the financing, with an obligation levied against the property tax bill, Mr. Bryant said. Repayments will be tax-exempt and spread over 5 to 20 years, and the obligation transfers with the sale of the property, he said.

The municipal-bond-like treatment lowers overall costs and "should really decrease initial capital costs," Mr. Bryant said.

An arm of the California Statewide Communities Development Authority is partnering with the Royal Bank of Canada to administer the program, leaving cities and towns the happy task of simply offering greener lifestyles to property owners.

"Sounds like there's no down side," Woodside Mayor Dave Burow said, after hearing Mr. Bryant's presentation.

This program is appealing, Portola Valley Councilwoman Ann Wengert said in an interview, because it allows homeowners to improve their homes without worrying about a large upfront cost working against the possibility of moving to a new home.

"That's a huge positive," she said.

The Portola Valley council had heard from town Sustainability Coordinator Brandi de Garmeaux and two representatives from the county on Feb. 24. The response was enthusiastic.

"This is a marvelous example of inter-government cooperation," Mayor Steve Toben said. "I'm very excited."

So was Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin. "I'm so excited I'm almost jumping out of my pants," she said, to the amusement of all. "I have tights on," she quickly added. "They are hard to jump out of."

Councilman Ted Driscoll, one of many residents who have improved the efficiency of their homes well before this program came on the horizon, asked the county officials if reimbursement was a possibility under this program. They will look into it, they said.

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