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Riverside County expanding its PACE financing program statewide

Riverside County HERO programWhile questions about Property Assessed Clean Energy financing from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stalled the program in most areas, it was still spurring economic growth in Riverside County, Calif.

The program allows homeowners to pay for permanent energy efficiency and water conservation improvements through their property taxes with an assessment on the property. Fannie and Freddie questioned the funding model, which all but killed it in most parts of the country.

“We never stopped pursuing what is now know as our HERO program,” said Barbara Spoonhour, director of energy and environmental programs for the Western Riverside Council of Government. “When the direction came down from Fannie and Freddie, our board of directors pushed to find a solution that works.”

That’s when the community turned to private financing. Since December 2011, 6,000 homeowners have applied for more than $100 million of energy efficiency, solar energy and water conservation improvements.

The community added a commercial program in December with $200 million private financing and is expanding its program to other counties in California. Spoonhour said she hopes to have the first projects outside of Riverside County approved and underway by July.

The reason Riverside stayed on the cutting edge with PACE financing options was simple, Spoonhour said.

“When AB 811 came out, we saw it as a jobs creator rather than an environmental bill,” she said.

Thousands of people in the Riverside County area were employed in the construction trade and when single-family home construction halted after the housing bubble burst in 2007, the county had high unemployment figures.

This program has kept contractors busy through the downturn.

“This is all about jobs,” Spoonhour said. “Right now we have over 530 contractors registered with our program.”

Through the HERO program homeowners can get financing through their property taxes arranged by their contractor. The financing can be used on any home or business improvements that will increase energy efficiency, generate clean electricity using solar photovoltaic panels or conserve water. Spoonhour said efficiency improvements are the most popular, followed by solar installations.

“I think this program made the projects happen,” she said. “HERO doesn’t suite everyone, but it’s one more option that does work for a lot of people.”

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