.Upfront: Renewable revolution

Marin cities adopt water- and energy-saving program

by Joseph Mayton

Editor’s note: This story is under review following reports of challenges to the veracity of Joseph Mayton’s reporting for other publications.

The addition of Belvedere and Mill Valley to the HERO (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) Program earlier this month gives Marin County more than 126,000 homes under the program, which aims at giving access to financing for water and energy improvements. The goal of the program across the county is to increase energy reliance on local and sustainable efforts.

“It was a really good thing for us to have solar put in because it really reduced our bill and I know the program can help so many people who might not have known where to go first,” says Fairfax resident Ryan Hensin. He believes that those who join the program will see “some savings right away, and that is really nice.”

HERO Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing enables homeowners to make energy- and water-efficiency improvements and pay for them over time through their property tax bill. Interest is tax-deductible, and homeowners see immediate savings on utility bills.

Marin has quickly become a hub for PACE expansion and the county has approved the option for all residents of ‘unincorporated areas,” or roughly 50,000 homes. The cities of Belvedere, Fairfax, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Novato, San Anselmo, San Rafael and Tiburon have also approved HERO. Corte Madera, Ross and Sausalito have not yet voted on the program, leaving 8 percent of homes in the county unable to access HERO financing.

Across California, HERO serves more than 10.5 million households. The program has “helped fund more than 46,000 residential efficiency projects totaling more than $933 million in financing in California,” a statement issued by a public relations firm representing HERO read. “By stimulating home renovation activity, the HERO Program increases demand for local contractor services. HERO is estimated to have spurred the creation of more than 7,900 jobs in California since beginning in December 2011.”

With the state legislation recently passing new regulations that should see a reduction in urban water consumption by 25 percent, the new financing options should help residents meet and exceed the goals, says Vice President of Community Development for Renovate America Blair McNeill, the company in charge of the HERO Program’s administration.

“We are seeing the rising costs of energy and when I speak with homeowners, they really want to find ways to be environmentally friendly and cost effective,” McNeill says. “I think this program is the best solution right now to help people get their energy costs down, conserve water and at the same time not have it destroy the bank accounts.”

McNeill says that HERO finances the entirety of the improvement project and he believes that the length of time that HERO is involved helps residents understand the process and make it work. “It’s about bringing renewable and efficient technology within reach for a broad range of homeowners.”

Given the State of California’s recently adopted regulations aimed at reducing urban water consumption by 25 percent, PACE financing is a particularly appealing option for homeowners and for municipalities.

Through the HERO Program, residents are able to obtain access to high-efficiency toilets, faucets and showerheads, drip irrigation systems, rainwater catchment systems, artificial turf and drought-tolerant landscaping—all financed through the program and paid back through property taxes. McNeill believes that it is a win-win situation.

“This is just the beginning of the renewable revolution that is happening in California and we are seeing that Marin is very open and receptive to these ideas, so it is exciting to see how many homes will take advantage of this opportunity,” he says.

Some residents are using the HERO Program to install the most popular product, solar power panel installations and heating and cooling systems, as well as energy-saving windows and doors, roofing and insulation.

San Francisco-based contractor Marcus Samuelsen, who regularly works in Marin on housing projects, says that residents should understand that these products are better than the standard options available.

“What we are seeing right now is that people understand that by putting a few bucks forward now, they can save themselves in the long run and help to move California and the country in the direction off fossil fuels,” he says. “I think this project should be mandated for all new structures in order to really have an immediate impact. In today’s world, lagging behind is not good enough anymore.”

And the HERO Program’s success is a direct result of its extensive contractor network.

When a homeowner faces unexpected and inevitable repairs such as a broken water heater or leaking roof, HERO-qualified contractors can steer their customers toward more efficient upgrades.

“Homeowners can select a truly efficient product for their repair since they don’t have to put down large amounts of money upfront; they then enjoy immediate savings on water and/or energy bills,” the statement read.

Marin also hopes that the program will be a benefit through economic stimulus and local job growth, while helping their communities reach state-imposed water- and energy-saving goals.

According to HERO, an estimated “6.2 billion KwHs of energy are already being saved by projects completed to date. This is equivalent to the CO2 emissions from 38,000 homes’ energy use for a year. Water-efficiency projects HERO has helped finance to date will save 1.7 billion gallons of water, or the equivalent of 55 million showers.”

The HERO program has now been adopted by 352 communities in California, in 34 counties.

HERO’s success in California is part of a national trend, with PACE programs now enabled in more than 30 states. The new financing model is quickly becoming a cornerstone of America’s push for cleaner power and energy independence.

Cities and counties need only pass a resolution in order to make PACE programs like HERO available to local property owners. The program has received numerous awards, including the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, the Urban Land Institute Best of the Best and the Southern California Association of Governments President’s Award for Excellence. Taking part in the HERO program is 100 percent voluntary for both jurisdictions and property owners. The program is cost-neutral to participating local governments.

McNeill hopes that this is just the beginning of finding a way to get more California homes into the renewable sector without breaking the bank. “I think we are very aware of the high costs of living in the Bay Area and this translates beyond rents or mortgages, so anything we can do to help remedy these problems will be great for the people and our communities,” he says.

Hensin agrees with McNeill, but goes further in urging other Marin residents to follow up with HERO representatives in order to obtain the information needed to move forward on improvements.

“This is a great project, but I feel too many people still don’t know about it or are apprehensive because they think it is too expensive,” Hensin says. “We need to educate and get the word out to more and more people so this will be in all homes in Marin.”


Pacific Sun
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