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County 'green' plan unveiled

mPOWER offers loans for energy-saving products
By: Brad Smith, Gold Country News Service
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During a March 22 ceremony, Placer County treasurer-tax collector Jenine Windeshausen unveiled a countywide program that would benefit not only the environment but the local economy as well. Called mPOWER Placer (Money for Property Owner Water & Energy Efficiency Retrofitting Program), the program and its $33 million funding was approved by the board of supervisors in January. The money comes from treasurer’s investment portfolio funds that are usually invested in Wall Street. Windeshausen, a Loomis resident, said she and other Placer officials learned of Sonoma County’s own “green loan” program — the first such program in the nation — and wanted Placer to do the same. During the event, held at the Roseville Home Depot with several county officials, local government representatives, real estate agents, business owners, private contractors and the media attending, Windeshausen explained how mPOWER works. The mPOWER program gives eligible Placer property owners a no-money-down way to finance energy and water-conservation improvements. “It’ll allow property owners to apply for loans to fully pay for allowed improvements,” she said. “And then pay the loans back with an attractive interest rate in twice yearly payments through their property tax payments.” Windeshausen noted that the Sonoma program generated more than 900 local jobs. “Hearing that, I believe that MPOWER Placer is a win-win situation for us,” she said. “We’d be investing that money locally. The money would go to Placer residents, who wanted energy efficient homes,” she said. “Local contractors and companies who focus on solar/photovoltaic systems will benefit as well.” Both the Placer and Sonoma projects are a response to AB 811, authored by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine and signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during summer 2008. According to the AB 811 Web site, the bill authorizes all California cities and counties to allow eligible property owners to enter to finance installation of distributed renewable-energy generation as well as energy-efficiency improvements, that are permanently fixed to the property owner’s residential, commercial, industrial or other real property. The goal is to reduce greenhouse emissions and boost economic potential. Windeshausen accepted the program’s first official application from Michele Skupic on March 22. “When I first heard about the Sonoma project and then the possibility of having one here, I told Jenine that we needed to get a program up and running,” she said. “I threatened to camp out on her porch until we had one. “I’m serious. I would have camped on her porch,” she said after turning in the application. In Loomis, Wild Chicken and Subway building owner Erik Petersen said he and his business partner, Lyle Innocent, are in the process of applying for an mPOWER loan. “At a minimum, we’re going to doing to do new HVAC units, insulation and a cool roof,” Petersen said. “We are still evaluating solar electric cells. It’s tough to say on commercial if that will pay for itself, because commercial rates are lower than residential.” Wild Chicken Coffee owner Charlotte Langston is looking forward to savings on her power bills. The current cooling units, she said, are “energy hogs.” Langston said the improvements will not only lower her utility bill but will also help the environment. She called the loan program “a ridiculously good deal.” Petersen also sees the mPOWER program as a good opportunity. He and Innocent, Petersen said, plan to use it for a commercial building in Rocklin and are considering upgrading residential properties. “It seems like the funding will be stable,” Petersen said. “The main thing is opportunities to finance these types of improvements are very limited right now.” Martha Garcia contributed to this story.