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Gov. Brown, Rep. Mike Thompson step in to aid PACE loan program for homeowners

  • Dr. Gerry Lazzareschi is the proud owner of a new rooftop solar power system at his home in Healdsburg on Friday, March 28, 2014. Lazzareschi financed it with a PACE loan form Sonoma County.(Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Gov. Jerry Brown and Rep. Mike Thompson are involved in separate efforts to boost Sonoma County's groundbreaking program to help residents pay for energy-saving improvements to their homes.

The highly touted program, which has funded more than $50 million worth of residential projects since it started in 2009, sustained a major setback in 2010 when federal housing officials said it jeopardized the nation's major source of home mortgages.

While Thompson, D-St. Helena, is seeking to remove the federal roadblock, Brown and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer have created a $10 million fund aimed at offsetting the loan program's potential impact on mortgages.

Thompson's legislation went nowhere in 2010 and 2011, but may fare better this year with a new director, a former Democratic congressman from North Carolina, heading the federal agency that sets mortgage policy.

The fund created by Brown and Lock-yer is intended to address the federal government's concerns and possibly lead to a change in policy, several observers said.

"That was certainly the hope," said Jane Elias, coordinator of Sonoma County's Energy Independence Program.

California's new fund, designed to insure mortgage lenders against any losses due to the energy loan program, "might serve as a model for other states," said Kristina Klimovich, spokeswoman for PACENow, a New York-based nonprofit that promotes the Property Assisted Clean Energy program known as PACE.

Evan Westrup, spokesman for the governor, declined to comment on whether the state fund was intended to prompt a change in federal policy clearing the way for loans enabling homeowners to install energy-saving retrofits, such as solar power systems.

Sonoma County's PACE program, the nation's first ongoing countywide program, got off to a fast start with requests for more than $9 million in funding in late 2009.

But funding applications dropped by half in fiscal year 2010-11 and left the program's future — at least for residential projects — in doubt.

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