News Column

Santa Fe Rises for Solar Loan Program

Sept. 27, 2012

Julie Ann Grimm

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Homeowners in the city of Santa Fe, N.M., can apply for low-cost loans for energy improvements under a program that will likely continue for at least another year.

The City Council this week approved a contract with Homewise to keep the Energy Partnership Loan Program going in an effort to help more residents install solar panels, add insulation and make other changes to cut energy bills.

Mike Loftin, Homewise executive director, said the nonprofit is well-known for its success with lowering the cost of financing for home loans. Energy improvements are another way to keep homeownership affordable by keeping recurring bills for utilities as low as possible.

"What I really love about this program is that it is not just good for the environment, but it is good for people's pocketbooks," he said. "If you can reduce their energy costs, that is one of the costs of owning a home and that really helps. People get it. You don't have to be a tree-hugger to want to save energy. This is pragmatic."

So far, the nonprofit has loaned out about $1.3 million to about 45 families for the program using about $600,000 in city and federal funds. It has also borrowed money from a local bank, secured additional federal grants and found other sources to lend another $1 million in the coming years.

Most homeowners who have received loans through the program to date have used the money for insulation, windows, replacement boilers, new roofs and other renovations that improve efficiency. About 30 percent of the money went to to install renewable energy infrastructure such as solar panels to generate electricity, according to records Homewise submitted to the city.

Nick Schiavo, director of the city's Housing and Community Development Department, said Homewise has done a good job administering the program. The city issued a request for proposals from other organizations who wanted a shot at the contract, but no others put in a bid.

Even Loftin said he's been surprised by the amount of federal and private grants the agency has been able to secure to leverage the city investment.

Homewise doesn't get too hung up on advising homeowners about what improvements to make, but relies on individuals to make decisions about the best plan, Loftin said. Consultants do offer information about alternatives and payoff versus potential savings. Loans have an interest rate of about 4 percent.

"We want your payment to be less than or roughly equivalent to what you would save in monthly costs. That's the goal, for it to make economic sense for the homeowner."

Dano Woodward, a homebuilder who lives in the Rio Vista neighborhood, recently got approval for a $9,200 loan to have Affordable Solar install a 1.9-kW photovoltaic system on his roof this fall. He calculates that his loan payment will be about $10 more each month than he currently pays the power company and that the new system will provide all of his family's power needs. As electricity rates increase, he expects the fiscal savings to be real.

"I've been wanting to do this since I got out of Humbolt in college in '78, but it's tough. I'm not a rich guy," Woodward said. "But the prices have come down quite a bit. I think that financially it's a good thing, and for resale it's a good thing. And I think just for karma, it's a good thing."

In order to be eligible for a loan, applicants must have a maximum household income no greater than 120 percent of the calculated "area median income" as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Loans are capped at $25,000 per household. Homewise also is supposed to ensure going forward that only Santa Fe County-based contractors and labor are used to perform the work, according to a last-minute amendment by the City Council. Homeowners also have to agree to let the city monitor energy use after the improvements.

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c)2012 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)


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