A Santa Barbara County program called emPowerSBC held a community workshop and barbecue Tuesday night in Santa Barbara to inform homeowners in the eastern Goleta Valley about options for making their homes more energy efficient while cutting costs through loans and rebates.
The program, which started in November 2011 and is funded through federal grant money, seeks to bring together two local credit unions, contractors and utility companies to provide affordable ways for homeowners to upgrade home efficiency.
Through a partnership with Ventura County Credit Union and CoastHills Federal Credit Union, emPower offers up to $25,000 in unsecured loans for terms of up to 15 years. Homeowners can also receive rebates proportional to the percentage a project increases efficiency through a program called Energy Upgrade California.
The workshop featured booths representing the Community Environmental Council, local contractors, utility companies and solar companies.
A representative from Building Performance Specialists, a division of the green building company Allen Associates, gave a presentation at the workshop outlining specific problems homes might have in energy efficiency and how they can be fixed. The company is one of many contractors emPower offers to perform assessments of homes to diagnose issues in energy efficiency and present possible fixes.
After receiving an assessment, homeowners are then prompted to choose from a variety of improvement projects grouped into a “basic package” and an “advanced package.” The total energy saved from the projects selected is then used to calculate the rebate received.
Southern California Gas Co. energy programs supervisor Paulo Morais said the Energy Upgrade California program offers $1,000 for every 10 percent reduction in energy use. The basic package is designed to cut down energy use by about 10 percent, and the advanced package could offer a rebate of up to $4,000. Additional rebates are also available for switching to solar energy and in the form of tax relief.
The workshop was attended by county 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who played an important role in the program’s creation and recently used it to install solar panels at her own home.
According to Wolf, the program was initially designed to use property tax bills for loans, but fell through in 2010 due to a lack of federal support. She said the current process of using a private lender for the loans seems much more promising.
“Our staff was very creative with it and put a lot of effort towards getting the credit unions on board with the program,” Wolf said. “The program really opens a lot of doors for people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to these upgrades.”
EmPower program manager Angie Hacker said the program has worked extensively to recruit local contractors and is always looking for new candidates. To ensure that all contractors are knowledgeable about efficiency issues, the program has held 14 skill-building sessions.
Ashley Watkins, who conducts community outreach for the program, said the program aims to simplify what can be an extremely daunting process, and make upgrades accessible and affordable.
“We think that with the emPower program, we’ve really cracked the code for making homeowners feel comfortable finding the financing and resources to make these home upgrades,” Watkins said.