New Financing Scheme Approved for Green Energy Upgrades
By Doug Oakley Staff Writer Bay Area News Group firstname.lastname@example.org
EMERYVILLE -- When Jeff Silver decided to redo the heating and hot water systems in his Emeryville home, the $32,000 price tag seemed way out of reach.
But through CaliforniaFIRST, a new state-sponsored program for energy efficiency financing that went live Tuesday in 17 counties, Silver was able to buy and install the equipment he needed with no money down and tack the payments on to his yearly property taxes with payments spread out over 15 years.
In the Bay Area, the program is now available in Alameda, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Contra Costa County should join by the end of the year.
CaliforniaFIRST allowed him to buy and install two natural gas heaters, one for his upstairs tenants and one for his unit, and an on-demand water heater. Financing can be extended to 20 years.
"I couldn't have come up with $32,000," said Silver, who was part of an earlier pilot program, as officials announced the formal launch of CaliforniaFIRST at his home. "There was one heater for both units in this house and the temperature was controlled by the tenant upstairs, so now we each have our own heater. This is great. It allowed me to do all the upgrades at once."
The new program is overseen by a consortium of local governments and financed by Renewable Funding of Oakland, which has $300 million to lend to homeowners at rates slightly less than a home-equity loan, or about 7 percent a year, said Cisco DeVries, CEO and co-founder of Renewable Funding, the financing company that manages CaliforniaFIRST.
A homeowner needs a minimum of $5,000 in projects to get financing. There's a long list of allowable projects homeowners can finance through the program, but they include solar panels, electric car charging stations, drip irrigation systems, home insulation projects, fans, new doors and windows, skylights and heating and air conditioning.
DeVries came up with the idea while working as an aide to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates in 2008. He said he told Bates he had a crazy idea for making green energy more affordable. Bates backed him all the way.
With DeVries' idea, Berkeley started a small program with 13 homes and got projects financed with the idea of taking the program statewide. But then the mortgage crisis hit and federal and state regulators put it on hold because they were wary of approving any kind of new home financing schemes, DeVries said.
Since then, DeVries continued working on it, convincing 17 counties in California to join the program and working with state and federal regulators to make it happen. Some other counties were already doing similar programs, he said.
"It's been a long time coming," DeVries said. "We just kept at it."
The program also is available to businesses.
State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, on hand for the rollout Tuesday, said she is pushing a bill through the Legislature that will make it "cheaper and quicker for them."
Bates was also at Silver's house to roll out the program.
"It was really creative thinking on Cisco's part and it made a lot of sense," Bates said. "We cooked it up in my office. I saw it as getting financing in an affordable manner."