An energy-savings initiative launched by Sonoma County government has proven ?wildly successful,? according to county officials.

The Sonoma County Energy Independence program allows property owners to borrow money from the county for energy-efficiency improvements and pay it back on installments on their tax bills.

In the four months the program has been running, more than 355 residents submitted applications totalling $14 million to retrofit their homes and businesses with items such as energy-efficient windows, heating and cooling equipment, insulation and solar panels.

?This is exactly what we hoped for when we pushed to implement this first-of-a-kind program,? Paul Kelley, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said in a prepared statement. ?Sonoma County residents are being given the tools to make improvements to their homes and businesses while putting contractors back to work. At the same time, they?re reducing the County?s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.?

?One of the key goals for the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program was job creation, and we are thrilled to see that so many people are being put to work through upgrading homes and businesses,? said Rod Dole, Sonoma County?s Auditor/Controller, who administers the program.

Participants repay the loans in installments on their property tax bills over 5 to 20 years at about 7 percent interest.

If the property is sold, the new owner is responsible for the payments.

The loans are for a minimum of $2,500. Both homeowners and commercial property owners throughout the county can take advantage of the program.

Property owners also are eligible for additional rebates, as well as state or federal tax credits once they make the improvements.

The county has the ability to pledge funds in its treasury and from the Water Agency under a new state law that permits creation of energy programs that issue loan notes.

The money in the county treasury comes from a pool of funds normally used for investments.

The county sells bonds to institutional investors to help finance the program.

The energy-saving measures are intended to help achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and cut water consumption during the drought.

More information about the program can be obtained at 521-6200, or online at www.sonomacountyenergy.org.