Monthly Archives: March 2015

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By Angela Hart
The Press Democrat

Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday signed off on an agreement clearing the way for Sonoma County’s newest clean-energy financing company to join the local market.

The vote allowing the San Diego-based firm Figtree Financing to operate in Sonoma County establishes a marketplace of three companies, plus the county, offering financing to property owners who want to upgrade their homes and businesses with energy- and water-saving retrofits.

The county and two of its cities — Sonoma and Sebastopol — previously approved contracts that allow two private companies to loan money to residential and commercial property owners for energy-efficient upgrades such as solar installation projects, recycled water systems and new heating and air conditioning units. Property owners borrow money based on the assessed value of their property and repay it over time on their property tax bills.

“It’s really exciting that we have another choice coming on board for consumers,” said Jane Elias, program manager for the county’s Energy Independence Program, which also acts as a lender. “It’s really about job creation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The financing programs are known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE. Sonoma County created the nation’s first countywide PACE initiative in 2009.

The Board of Supervisors approved agreements last October allowing two private companies, Home Energy Renovation Opportunity, or HERO, and CaliforniaFIRST, to operate in the county. The Sebastopol and Sonoma city councils followed with similar deals shortly after.

Sonoma County officials expanded financing options for residents and businesses in response to consumer demand for retrofitting loans, Elias said. She said the county is enlarging the marketplace to increase the amount of money available for borrowers. With more property owners opting for energy-saving retrofits, local contractors will gain more work, she said.

The upgrades also will help the county meet its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2015, Elias said.

The county is in talks with Santa Rosa’s Ygrene Energy Fund, a national residential and commercial PACE provider, to further expand the county’s marketplace. The firm does not currently offer local financing options.

The additional firms looking for a stake of local business are popping up as loan restrictions remain in place for homeowners with mortgages tied to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In 2010, the two agencies, which together control about half of all U.S. home mortgages, told lenders they would no longer purchase home loans for properties with an outstanding PACE loan, maintaining that such liens are structured in a way that gives the energy loans priority in repayment over a normal home mortgage, in event of a default.  But county officials say the limits haven’t curbed energy- upgrade business in the county.

“We’re seeing more and more activity,” Elias said. “People want more energy-efficient homes.”