NORTH BAY ? The Sonoma County Energy Independence Program, a financing tool for property owners wishing to make energy-efficient upgrades, has signed more than $6 million in contracts and has multiple applications in progress in just the first two months of operation, including for one of Sonoma County?s largest employers.
The program, which launched March 25, is made possible though Assembly Bill 811, which allows for cities and counties in California to create financing districts for energy improvements. In Sonoma County, loans are payable on property-tax bills.
Organic-food maker Amy?s Kitchen, which employees 950 people, and the Santa Rosa Plaza owned by Simon Property Group are some of the many local companies getting ready to participate in the program.
The Santa Rosa Plaza?s loan will be just under $500,000 for a cool roof. Amy?s Kitchen is in the application process with the amount for its projects yet to be determined.
Both Santa Rosa Plaza and Amy?s Kitchen declined to comment.
Sonoma is the first county to launch such a program, though there are similar efforts in several cities in the state, Palm Desert and Berkeley being two of them.
As of May 22, there were 1,159 applications filed with the program. Of the $6 million in contracts signed, $818,000 has been disbursed thus far.
?We are really excited about the improvements that will be made in Sonoma County. ... It is all about making Sonoma County greener,? said Rod Dole, Sonoma County auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector. The program has grown at a rate of $1 million a week, he said.
Mr. Dole said his department has had a difficult time in keeping up with the applications and has doubled the number of people in its Santa Rosa office to handle the workload. But he is pleased with the response.
?Our business model has been tested based on the great response from the community,? he said.
He said there have been the same growing pains of any new business and that there are a lot of suggestions for making the program more efficient. They have developed a steering committee comprised of internal staff as well as a business advisory council made up of installers and contractors to find out what is working and what is not.
?If for the homeowners it is a good experience, that is great, but we want to make sure the program is designed to take the people doing the jobs into account,? he said.
The business advisory council had its first meeting Friday. Since the program was launched by the county, most of the cities have opted to participate. Petaluma is the only city that has not opted in, but Mr. Dole said he expects the council to address the issue as soon as Tuesday.
Loans can start at $2,500 for small projects, such as redoing insulation for a home, and go as high as the program is willing to lend for larger commercial projects involving solar- or wind-powered renewable energy. However, on the commercial projects, the bank or first mortgage lender has to OK the loan since the payments are tied to the property-tax bill.
In addition to the energy-efficiency improvements, the Energy Independence Program provides financing for water-efficiency improvements and renewable sources that are permanently fixed to the real property.