Source: Mercury News.
SANTA CRUZ – What’s likely to become the nation’s largest solar loan program is in line for $16.5 million of stimulus funds, setting the stage for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars for small energy projects across California, including Santa Cruz County.
The grant, announced Thursday by the California Energy Commission, will fund the administration of a 14-county financing district where homeowners and businesses can pay for solar and other energy efficiency improvements through an assessment on their property taxes.
“We’re taking away the (financial) barrier for people who want to do the right thing to protect their bottom line and help the environment,” said Virginia Johnson, executive director of Santa Cruz-based Ecology Action, which is helping coordinate the state effort.
With the federal funding, the so-called CaliforniaFIRST program is poised to begin this summer with financing of up to $35,000 for homeowners and $75,000 for businesses, with interest rates between 7 and 8 percent. The financing term is 20 years, with debt staying with the home or business if the property sells.
Administrators say the program will go a long way toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions and staving off global warming as well as generate as many as 2,000 jobs in the emerging green economy.
“It’s the economic impact and the environmental benefits that make this program,” said Johnson.
Before CaliforniaFIRST took shape, with Sacramento County as the lead administrator, several cities and counties struggled to start their own solar financing programs. While some went forward in places like Berkeley and Sonoma County, many remained stymied by the high cost of startup and liability.
“It would have taken a lot longer to get this happening here (without the grant). Our county does not have a lot of discretionary revenue right now,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold, who has long advocated for a local financing program.
The larger 14-county program, which goes as far south as San Diego and north to Yolo County, spreads the operating costs and will allow for lower interest rates, administrators say. Oakland-based Renewable Funding is handling the financing while the federal stimulus money will cover the administrative expense – with no tab for participating governments.
Within the two-year “pilot” period, at least $25 million will be loaned out and as much as $200 million, administrators say.
The financing will be available for a range of work from solar panel installation to upgrading heating, water systems and windows and doors, many of these projects expected to pay for themselves through energy savings.
In Santa Cruz County, where residents of all four cities and the unincorporated areas will be able to participate, local advocates say the loans will lure as much as $60 million in construction work and hundreds of new jobs.
The new funding for CaliforniaFIRST was part of a $110 million award through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, earmarked for retrofitting homes, businesses and municipal buildings.
The allocations announced Thursday need a final sign-off by the board of the California Energy Commission before the money, administered by the California Recovery Task Force, is handed down.
“California has always been and will continue to be the national leader in advanced energy efficiency efforts – efforts that continue to reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum dependence,” said Herb Schultz, director of the California Recovery Task Force, in a prepared statement.
Counties in Solar financing Program
San Mateo County
San Benito County
Santa Clara County
San Diego County
Santa Cruz County
San Luis Obispo County