[caption id="attachment_16992" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Rod Dole"][/caption]

SONOMA COUNTY -- Across the country, states are rushing to pass AB 811 energy-efficiency programs, buoyed by numbers coming out of California and particularly Sonoma County, the first to adapt AB 811 on a county-wide basis.

Now the Department of Energy and the Office of the Vice Presidency are conferring with Sonoma County officials to frame a national policy and, if proposals from the county regarding long-term funding take the federal fancy, perhaps to form an entirely new model of federal investment in local energy-saving efforts.

"As of two weeks ago, 15 states have passed AB 811 or similar legislation" said Rod Dole, Sonoma County auditor, controller and administrator of the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program, which allows property owners to finance energy improvements through their tax bills. "Given the speed with which the measures are being considered and adapted, a federal policy seems to be in order."

AB 811 allows cities and counties within a state to designate areas where property owners can choose to fund green improvements to their property by using loans generated by the city or county.

The cost of materials and installation is paid back gradually through assessments to the owner's property taxes.

The Sonoma County Water Agency and Sonoma County agreed to jointly pledge $100 million, recouping the funds with the sales of bonds.

The Sonoma County Energy Independence Program has already contracted for $19 million in loans and paid out $13 million. Reports from the water agency and Robert Eyler of Sonoma State University show an 8.4 percent rise in construction jobs following SCEIP’s adaptation.

But less population- and cash-rich counties can't avail themselves of Sonoma’s funding option. Some are asking the DOE for grants, and others are waiting for the state to set up an investment structure.

"What we're proposing is that the DOE, rather than giving out the money via grants or low-cost loans, invest directly in these bonds," said Mr. Dole.

"They provide the funding dollars at market issue rates, and in turn, principal and reasonable interest will be paid on the investment after property assessments, including interest, are collected from the property owner."

The model, he added, has the additional advantage of making funding available in future years and without overexposing taxpayers.

It's one of several strategies for long-term funding of SCEIP under consideration by the county.

"The last successful piece of this program is to lock in funding for the future in a way that benefits the investors at the same time it lowers energy use and creates green jobs," said Mr. Dole.

County strategies for long-range funding have roused interest on the part of Sen. Barbara Boxer and Vice President Joe Biden. If a path to future funding can be found, Mr. Dole hopes the DOE will build it into the national policy now being framed.

“The DOE likes what we’ve done so far, although they’d like tighter provisions to protect the taxpayer, for example, a requirement that the assessment cannot exceed yearly savings made possible by the property improvements,” he said.

Now that Sonoma County has the ear of the DOE, which has $40 billion in stimulus funds to invest in green projects, local officials believe that SCEIP in its current and future forms will be a model to the nation.

“The support we’ve seen for it here in the county is overwhelming. I’m not surprised to see Sonoma emerging as a poster child for the national green movement,” said Mr. Dole.