Home loans for clean energy coming soon - Independent Green Technologies

Home loans for clean energy coming soon

Published on August 17th, 2016

After six years of lawsuits that went all the way to both the U.S. and Florida supreme courts, Leon County will finally be able to offer low-interest loans to homeowners in the unincorporated areas who want to install energy-saving and environmentally friendly equipment.

The County Commission has approved an agreement with the Florida Development Finance Corporation to administer the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. It should be available to residents by early October, said Maggie Theriot, director of the Office of Resource Stewardship for the county.

A program for commercial properties will launch in January.

Loans will be based on the value of an applicant’s property, she said. Owners can get up to 90 percent of the fair market value of their home to buy solar panels, reflective roofing, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning units and other equipment, Theriot said.

The loan is attached to the borrower’s property taxes and paid with his tax bill at a fixed rate over time. It will be available to all property owners in both the city and unincorporated areas.

The county tried launching the program in 2010, when former commissioner Cliff Thaell advocated a program for unincorporated residents similar to what city residents enjoyed through the city utilities department.

Leon is unusual because it has only one incorporated city with its own electrical utility.

“About three-quarters of property owners can get reasonable financing through the city’s electric utility,” Theriot said.

No such loan program was available for the other 25 percent of the county’s homeowners, she said. The county has about 280,000 residents.

“We were approached by sustainability and environmentally minded people who wanted to reduce their energy load,” Theriot said. “We had no other tool or mechanism for doing that.”

The county drew up a list of 100 potential customers for a pilot program to offer in-depth energy audits when the Federal Housing Finance Agency filed a suit against Leon County and other governmental entities across the country that were launching similar PACE programs.

The housing authority objected to the program because it placed a senior lien on the property.

“We were in midstream when that lawsuit was filed,” Theriot said. “It was chopped off at the federal level.”

While the case wound its way through the federal court system, Leon County shifted focus to creating a commercial loan program.

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The county had identified a third party provider, YGrene Energy Fund, to oversee the program in 2012, and a year later authorized a $200
million bond issuance to finance the loans.

That stopped when state bankers filed suit in state court. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in the county’s favor in 2015.

Renovate America, a private lender out of California, developed a model that doesn’t require it to be the primary lien holder. It agreed to subordinate its lien to the existing mortgage holder. It also agreed that if a homeowner got behind on payments, the funder could only call on the amount immediately owed, and not the full amount of the loan.

On July 12, the Leon County Commission, acting as the Energy Improvement District, approved an agreement with the FDFC that authorizes PACE financing. FDFC will negotiate with Renovate America to start a pilot program locally under its Home Energy Renovation Opportunity program.

County manager Vince Long said in a news release that this program will help people lower their utility bills, raise property values, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and “put people to work.”

Renovate America will train and certify solar, roofing and plumbing contractors to offer their services to successful loan applicants.

“By becoming the first jurisdiction in Florida to open its doors to the HERO Program, Leon County together with the City of Tallahassee will enable tens of thousands of its residents to access a unique and powerful home improvement tool,” FDFC PACE Program manager Ryan Bartkus said in a news release.

If it succeeds, the FDFC will also contract with other lenders, including YGrene and the Clean Fund.

Matt Chentnik, who owns IGT Solar, has waited six years for this program to launch. He was trained and certified by YGrene and ready to go when the commercial program got held up in court.

“We’re all for it,” Chentnik said. “Anything that can help a customer go solar or do any energy efficient upgrade is a good thing.”

Jeff Schweers, Democrat correspondent 8:33 p.m. EDT August 5, 2016

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