Council supports energy efficiency expansion for city

ENCINITAS — City Council voted unanimously Jan. 20, with Councilman James Bond absent, to participate in a pilot program to facilitate financing for residents to implement renewable energy, energy efficiency and water efficiency improvements on their property.
The innovative program to upgrade the state’s private and commercial properties in an effort to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals, known as CaliforniaFIRST, will allow property owners to pay for energy and water-saving changes through voluntary property assessments according to the staff report.
Without any discussion the council voted to pay the $12,500 participation fee and join the pilot project that gives both residential and commercial property owners a new way to fund energy efficient additions such as solar panels, low-flow toilets and insulation.
Encinitas is the latest of several San Diego communities after the county approved the measure, including Chula Vista, Oceanside, Santee and Poway, to sign up for the program. “I think it’s a great idea,” Councilwoman Teresa Barth said after the meeting. “It’s going to make accessing and installing solar much easier for homeowners.” She said she would like the city to have a promotion of the program when it goes into effect.
Jennifer Green, local
government program manager of California Center
for Sustainable Energy, a program partner on the CaliforniaFIRST program, said the cities are very excited about the concept. The deadline to officially join the program is March 31.
“The idea is to start with energy efficiency and add water conservation later on,” Green said. “It’s really going to break down some of the barriers that exist with the upfront costs of installing solar.”
The “test in” component of the program — finding ways to conserve energy — will “kick-start energy efficiency in California,” Green said. “This is a one-stop shop to apply for financing, understand what the benefits are and on-going customer service,” she said.
Established by state law, the new program is run by California Communities, a joint powers authority made up of representatives from various California cities and counties. The loan money comes from the Royal Bank of Canada.
When a property owner within the city chooses to participate in the program, the improvements may be financed with bonds issued
by California Communities, which the city is not responsible for repaying or administering. The property owner is required to pay additional fees, including a nonrefundable application fee not to exceed $300.
Property owners will gradually pay back the loans as part of their annual property tax payments. The loans can carry on even after a property is sold. Because of this unique feature, the program is attractive to many property owners even if they expect to sell their homes within the next few years, according to supporters of the program.
The program’s formation paperwork should be completed this spring and loan applications will be processed beginning early summer.
For more information visit www.energycenter.org.

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