NORTH BAY – The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is set to vote in late March on whether to establish a program to fund loans for residential and commercial property owners in order for them to make energy-efficient and water-conserving upgrades to their properties.

California Assembly Bill 811 was passed in September with aim of increasing funding for energy efficiency. The bill makes it lawful for cities and counties in California to create districts to permit property owners to “finance” installation of energy-efficient and green-power systems via payments on property tax bills.

According to county supervisors Valerie Brown and Paul Kelley, there is a strong belief that this will pass.

“Supervisor Brown and I have spearheaded to get this enacted and available as soon as possible,” Mr. Kelley said. “I am thrilled we can offer a tool both residents and businesses can use for energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation projects.”

The financing plan as it has been presented is for the tentatively named Sonoma County Energy Independence Program to issue notes to the county, which would in turn make the loans to the participants.

A feasibility report was drafted to look at the pros and cons of the program and to see if it is reasonable. There were a number of concerns addressed including a buildup of community expectations surrounding the program.

If enacted, Sonoma County will be the first county to jump on the opportunity that AB 811 has presented Californians.

Palm Desert was the first city to enact the legislation and is currently in its second phase of the program, having allocated a total of $7.5 million for building improvements.

While this is an important step for California in general, Sonoma County has a particular vested interest.

Sonoma County has made a goal of dropping the levels of greenhouse emissions 25 percent lower than they were in 1990 by 2015. That is a 37 percent drop from the projected “business as usual” level for 2015.

AB 811, in addition to being a vehicle for helping people make energy-efficient and water-saving upgrades to their homes, will provide the county with an economic stimulus by creating jobs.

Amy Bolten, public information officer for the Sonoma County Water Agency, has been working with the Board of Supervisors to put the plan together.

“We are trying to make this as broad and as easy as possible,” she said. “Any licensed contractor will be able to do the work.” Additionally, a prospective participant will be able to have an energy audit prior to getting a loan, but it will not be required.

“I think that we have had the time to work out some of the major glitches,” said Ms. Brown. “And we are pleased the stimulus package is moving forward because there will be funding through that and solar will be given a boost because of the rebates.” Ms. Brown mentioned how excited the board is in being the first county and reiterated the sentiment about economic stimulus.

“We are thrilled to be able to partner with the local vendors and make this available to folks at a very crucial time.”

At the March 3 Board of Supervisors meeting there will be an official resolution of intention, and March 24 there will be a hearing to establish the program.

“On March 24, we hope to have the program live,” Ms. Bolten said.

After the plan is enacted, Mr. Kelley said there will be a lot of work to be done. There will be the actual process of people applying, which he said will take a lot of effort.

“I believe that we will pass this on March 24; then the hard work will begin,” said Mr. Kelley. “As we roll this out, it is going to take a significant marketing effort, which will be a component of what we look at at the meeting.”