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Placer County eyes loan program for “green” home improvements

By: Gus Thomson Gold Country News Service
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Help is on the way from an unusual source in Placer County for homeowners looking for ways to find funds to pay for a “greener” home. Everything from installing a new heating and cooling system to buying technology to help ramp down on water consumption would be covered in a loan program that is being developed by the county Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office. The source of funding under what is being dubbed Placer mPOWER would be the county treasury, with Treasurer-Tax Collector Jenine Windeshausen anticipating $33 million being made available during a time when loans are hard to come by. Auburn resident Russell Garcia, president of the non-profit Green Cabinet, said the county program is “the kind of leadership we’re looking for.” The Sacramento-based Green Cabinet provides education for the commercial building industry in sustainable construction practices. “This will stimulate the economy, reduce the carbon footprint and increase energy efficiency,” Garcia said. Windeshausen outlined the program to county supervisors last Tuesday. She told the Board of Supervisors that there would be no direct fiscal impact on the county general fund or on other funds under control of the board. The program comes as counties and other local jurisdictions scramble to find ways to implement Assembly Bill 811. Adopted last year, the bill allows counties and cities to finance installation of renewable energy sources or energy-efficiency improvements that are permanently fixed to real property. With about $1 billion in the county treasurer’s investment pool, the $33 million would be loaned to the newly named Placer mPOWER (short for Money for Property Owner Water and Energy Efficiency Retrofitting) program. Programs are already in operation in Palm Desert, Berkeley and Sonoma County. Demand is high from property owners looking at ways to finance green-related home improvements and take advantage of rebates, Windeshausen said. They’re offering interest rates of about 7 percent but Windeshausen said Placer County’s could be lower with some help from the federal government on tax incentives. Under Placer County’s plan, a loan would be repaid in yearly installments, with the debt being attached to property tax bills. Christina Dabis, Nevada County treasurer-tax collector, said that AB 811 is set up to allow smaller counties to become part of a larger jurisdiction’s program and she plans to earmark $5 million to $10 million for her county’s green fund. Julia Burrows, deputy city manager of Roseville, said a huge demand is anticipated in Roseville and volunteered office space for the program in that city. “We’re looking forward to it helping property owners lower their energy usage, water usage and lower their bills,” she said.