Loans available to retrofit homes in LA County's unicorporated areas

Homeowners in Los Angeles County's unincorporated areas installing solar panels and other energy-efficient systems may be eligible for loans averaging $10,000 under a program approved today by the Board of Supervisors.

The Los Angeles County Energy Program will offer loans averaging $10,000 to residents retrofitting their homes to improve energy or water efficiency.

The supervisors hope the plan will finance retrofits for 15,000 homes, create 2,600 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually by the end of 2012.

"The oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico should remind all of us that energy that we conserve is the cheapest and most available of all,'' Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. "In this time of economic crises, our green strategies must also be cost-effective.''

The criteria for the program, expected to formally begin in September, are still under development and some legal details also need to be worked out.

The rate on the loans will ultimately depend on the amount of grant money that can be garnered. Federal stimulus funds totaling $12.2 million, a U.S. Department of Energy grant of $14 million and $8 million from the California Energy Commission have already been obtained.

Staffers estimate that loans could carry a rate of 9 to 9.5 percent, but hope to reduce those levels by finding additional funding for administrative costs. The average home equity loan rate in Los Angeles was 8.75 percent as of May 1, according to the county's analysis.

Homeowners would pay back the loans on an agreed-upon schedule along with their property tax payments. In order to be eligible for the financing, residents would need to meet tests of
creditworthiness. Energy savings are expected to help fund loan repayments. Staffers estimate that $2 million in annual utility charges can be saved through the retrofits.

The unanimous vote by the board today authorizes the program for unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Any of the county's 88 cities are able to opt in by a vote of their city council.