Supes Jump-Start Greening Loans

Homeowners Given Cash to Make Buildings More Sustainable

Despite holdups at the federal level, Santa Barbara County officials are hoping to jump-start a program that would allow private-property owners to get affordable loans to make their buildings greener.

Known as emPowerSBC, the program has been stalled due to disagreements between federal departments, which leave the future of property-assessed clean energy programs (PACE) uncertain. In these plans, the county would loan money to property owners for their projects, and residents would pay it back via their property-tax bills. The idea was to solve two barriers to achieving energy-efficient goals in the county: access to capital and market complexity. Despite reluctance by some supervisors, the county supported a program here where the county itself would lend the cash.

In addition to making more buildings environmentally friendly, officials believe the program could bring in $160 million in contracts and create as many as 900 new jobs over the next 10 years. The strategy is also supported by both environmentalists and the construction industry. Housing and Community Development Director Dave Matson estimates between 500 and 600 people have shown an interest in applying for loans. And that’s why, though PACE is on hold, officials are seeking alternative solutions that include private financing, rather than financing through the county, which would lower the county’s risk.

On Tuesday, the county accepted more than $2.4 million in America Reinvestment and Recovery Act money, which will pay for the administrative costs through the initial three years of a pilot program. That money, combined with more than $700,000 from the California Energy Commission, is a good start to getting emPowerSBC off the ground. Housing and Community Development will return in December to present a financing implementation plan proposal for emPowerSBC.

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