River Falls Municipal Utilities (RFMU), which serves 5,800 customers in River Falls, WI, is celebrating the recent launch of “Save Some Green,” an innovative financing program, designed to help residential customers purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements to their homes.
RFMU’s program follows the Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE model, which allows customers to finance projects through a loan that is attached to their property and paid back overtime via a line item on their property tax bill.
Attaching the loan responsibility to property itself rather than the owners means the payments will transfer to the new owner if the property is sold. This repayment structure makes costly energy efficiency projects with longer payback periods more palatable for homeowners who are not certain how long they will stay in the improved property and reap the energy and cost savings benefits.
How is the Program Structured?
Although modeled after the Berkeley FIRST program, RFMU's program is unique in that it is 100 percent utility-funded and administered. Thus far, RFMU has committed over $250,000 of general funds to a revolving loan fund to support the program. In 2010, the utility hopes to make anywhere from 5 to 10 loans (of up to $50,000) at an interest rate of 4 percent. To assure that only "shovel ready" projects resulting in cost-effective energy savings are considered, the program requires applicants to first invest in a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR energy analysis, have the project appraised by an approved contractor and obtain bid proposals.
During a one-on-one consultation with the applicant, the program coordinator reviews the results of the energy analysis and provides referrals to grants, tax credits and other subsidies that could offset some the costs of the recommended renewable and energy conservation measures. While "Save Some Green" focuses on financing clean energy systems, according to RFMU's Conservation and Efficiency Coordinator, Mike Noreen, the program emphasizes the importance of first pursuing the cost-effective energy efficiency measures recommended by the energy analysis. In certain cases, the program will also help finance energy efficiency improvements in conjunction with a qualifying renewable energy project.
Helping the Community Meet its Conservation Goals
RFMU and the "Save Some Green” program are part of "Powerful Choices," a community-wide initiative to make the City of River Falls a model for sustainability initiatives in the state and region. In this regard, River Falls has made significant progress. The community of just over 14,000 ranks third in the country for green power sales as a percentage of total retail electric sales, with an impressive 5.8 percent of total electricity use coming from green power in 2008. River Falls is also a part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Communities, a voluntary program that supports community procurement of green power by offering expert advice, technical support, tools and resources.