Green loans plan gaining traction

Residents willing to give their home an energy-reducing makeover — perhaps installing new insulation, replacing windows, and using more efficient heating and air conditioning systems — could be eligible for tax incentives and loans from San Mateo County.

The concept to “reduce energy before you produce energy” is still in the planning stages, but Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen said the county is meeting with interested cities.

The goal of the program, she said, is to encourage “whole house retrofits.” It’s less about creating energy through renewable sources and more about increasing energy efficiency within homes.

“It could be replacing a furnace, adding insulation, sealing ducts,” Jensen said. “These projects aren’t as visible, but they have just as good a payback.”

The county has set aside $500,000 for the Residential Energy Action Program, according to documents. The funding is part of a $2.9 million allocation the county received in federal stimulus funding. County staff also are pursuing state funding in order to extend the program to more households.

“The concept is important in order to reduce energy use in homes before we start producing renewable energy,” Jensen said.

Sonoma County already has a similar loan program to encourage residents to make green upgrades to their homes. It offers loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements that carry a 7 percent interest rate and can be repaid during the course of 20 years, county documents show.

San Mateo County may mimic Sonoma’s loan program, according to Jensen. Such a program would mandate that the loan would remain with any home that receives the upgrades until it’s paid off, to ensure those benefiting from the improvements help pay for them, she said.

Kari Binley, executive director of nonprofit Sustainable San Mateo, said whole house retrofits are good, but residents should also pursue simpler improvements — such as opening vents in all rooms to provide better circulation — to reduce a home’s carbon footprint.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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