Last October, the city of Berkeley, CA voted to allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements and solar systems through long-term assessment on their individual property tax bills. Now Boulder County may try something similar. If it passes, this might be welcome news to local property owners who won’t do energy efficiency and renewable energy projects without up-front funding assistance.
Earlier this month, Boulder County Commissioners agreed to put Issue 1A on the Nov. 4 ballot. This would which would allow the county to sell up to $40 million in bonds to support a loan program for “clean energy options.”
Here’s how the county explains it would work…
“$40 million in special assessment bonds for the purpose of providing financing options for renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements via a ‘Clean Energy Options Local Improvement District.’ This local improvement district would provide a voluntary mechanism for property owners — both residential and commercial — to obtain affordable financing for renewable energy improvements, such as installing a solar power system, or retrofitting a home to increase energy efficiency.
“Only property owners who elect to participate in the program would actually pay for improvements through a property tax assessment; it is not a tax based on a geographic area or a sales and use tax. The program is voluntary and property owners would have the ability to opt in to the program for a loan value specific to the energy improvements that they elect to undertake on their own property.
“Loans would be paid back through an annual special assessment on the property itself — meaning that repayment responsibility for the improvements would remain with the property if the property is sold, and thereby assure that the property owner(s) who benefits from the energy savings has the responsibility to pay back the loan, unlike home equity or other loans that require repayment in full at the time a property is sold.
“…The initial set of bonds are expected to be within the range of $14 million. The proposal would allow the County to issue bonds in several series, with flexibility for issuing both taxable and tax-exempt bonds.”
This kind of funding assistance may be a good complement to the education and marketing efforts of Boulder’s Climate Smart program. Right now, Climate Smart focuses mainly on educating and motivating area residents and businesses to improve energy efficiency and cut greenhouse gas emissions, connecting people with existing programs (such as utility rebates and weatherization assistance), and subsidizing the cost of energy audits. (Program details) While those efforts probably help cut Boulder’s carbon footprint somewhat, in tight economic times it’s harder to convince most people to do much more than switch to compact fluorescents without offering help with up-front costs.
Boulder County is able to put forward this sort of strategy thanks to the State of Colorado’s passage HB 1350 earlier this year. That law expands counties’ options for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy. It’ll be interesting see what other Colorado counties decide to try on this front.