There are increasing incentives for consumers to go green.

They help pay to install energy-saving appliances like water heaters, upgrade furnaces and air conditioners, or put in smart irrigation systems and low-flow toilets.

Government programs and rebates are spurring the trend.

Energy efficiency upgrades such as double-paned windows and new insulation are eligible for a tax credit of 30 percent of costs, up to $1,500.

Renewable energy systems, such as solar, qualify for the 30 percent tax credit with no upper limit through 2016.

Even heating stoves that use renewable biomass fuel ? wood, pellets, plants ? now qualify for a tax credit.

On the local level, the newly enacted Sonoma County Energy Independence Program enables homeowners to finance energy improvements, such as solar panels, without large cash outlays.

They can borrow money from the county and pay it back in installments on their property tax bills over 5 to 20 years at about 7 percent interest.

In the first two weeks of the program?s inception, about a dozen homeowners applied for $750,000 worth of projects ? mostly solar ? but also for installing energy efficient windows, as well as improved heating, cooling and irrigation systems.

County officials have fielded hundreds of calls from property owners and contractors expressing interest in the Energy Independence Program and expect that to continue as more cities participate.

The innovative county program, which could finance $100 million worth of projects, is expected to unlock pent-up demand for solar projects, according to advocates.

It will provide homeowners the ability to more easily finance energy efficiency and solar projects, said Lori Houston, associate director of Solar Sonoma County, a consortium of local governments, businesses and other individuals working to promote solar energy.

A typical residential solar installation costs about $20,000 to $25,000 after rebates and tax credits, according to Houston.

?Big up-front costs have been a huge barrier for people who would like to do solar. It takes care of that,? she said.

Between the county program and the economic stimulus funding rolling in, Houston said ?there will be a rise in the need not only for solar installers, but for people who can do energy analysis and contractors who know how to do energy efficient retrofits.?

Since 2001, there have been 2,261 solar installations in the county, representing about 23 megawatts, according to Solar Sonoma County.

The organization?s mission is to add 25 new megawatts of solar by 2011, about the equivalent of 3,500 average homes and 50 businesses.

The owners of Solar Works, a 15-employee Sebastopol-based solar provider, said they have seen a recent upswing in people interested in getting photovoltaic and solar thermal systems.

?The phones are ringing. We are picking up steam,? said John Parry, chief executive and owner, but he added that people are still hesitating to make big purchases like a solar installation.