Solar and Energy Loan FundSaves Money, Add Jobs
St. Lucie County is giving its residents and small businesses the ability to save energy, slash utility bills, improve comfort and security and boost their property equity through the precedent-setting Clean Energy Loan Program. Created in 2010, the program is offered through the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF), a nonprofit that is unlike any other in the nation. It is a lending institution with a social mission, providing low-cost financing so that clients can make energy-saving property improvements that they otherwise could not afford. The County created the program with seed money from state and federal grants but with the intention that SELF would operate independently and not as part of the County government. Its primary goal is to assist residents and businesses through a revolving loan program offering terms that are far more favorable than those found a traditional banks and credit unions.
The idea is simple: Provide property owners a way to save more money on energy costs than they pay through the loan, resulting in a net financial gain over time. As of August 2012, SELF had loaned more than $1.2 million to more than 150 property owners. These loans have allowed clients to make energy efficiency upgrades and install roof-top solar systems that have been proven to be cost-effective. SELF offers financing for more than two dozen types of energy efficient and renewable energy options, including:
- Weatherization (insulation, caulking, window and door replacement)
- Replacement of inefficient air-conditioning systems
- Window tinting, LED lighting, cool roof construction
- Installation of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and solar attic fans
Upfront costs are minimal. Interest rates are as low as 6 percent and terms as long as 15 years. As a result, SELF has eliminated financing as the biggest hurdle residents and businesses face in making energy-efficiency and conservation enhancements. The program educates property owners about the best ways to save energy and demonstrates the benefits of specific energy-related alternatives. It features professional-grade energy assessments that explain in simple term what improvements a home or business needs to make in order to cut its energy consumption.
Additionally, the Clean Energy Loan Program has put people to work, employing dozens of local contractors and businesses specializing in Heating and Cooling, Energy Conservation, Renewable Energy and other related trades. Some long-time businesses have reported a 25 percent increase in business directly linked to work created through SELF’s program. In order to participate in the program, contractors must meet high standards, thus assuring quality work that will have long-lasting benefits. SELF clients have been pleased with their improvements and continue to express their gratitude and satisfaction with the program. Clients have seen an average savings of 24 percent on their monthly kilowatt consumption. For many, this equates to hundreds of dollars in utility savings each year. In at least one case, a homeowner made improvements that have proven so effective his monthly electric bill was cut 100 percent. The program reduces energy consumption and thus, greenhouse gas production, resulting in environmental benefits as well.
SELF’s Dedicated Board, Staff
SELF is led by a group of visionary leaders, many with vast experience in financing, contracting, government and private practice. Its Board of Directors is comprised of community leaders representing a broad spectrum of the County. They are dedicated to seeing the program succeed and become sustainable for years to come. SELF’s headquarters in Fort Pierce house a full-time staff of six with a high level of energy and passion. These skilled employees are dedicated to assisting property owners through every step of the financing and construction process.
Through the Clean Energy Loan Program, SELF is creating a market for Green Economy jobs. It has partnered with the Green Collar Task Force and Indian River State College to put people to work and help students get their degrees while assisting SELF with its operations. The program has boosted St. Lucie County’s labor force, giving businesses a means of adding or retaining jobs as they recover from the devastating recession.
SELF has become a model for other energy-related institutions throughout the nation. It is looking to become a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury. This designation will allow SELF to access funding that will ensure that SELF can become fully sustainable. It also plans to offer commercial loans through a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, an innovative approach that will allow business owners to repay their loans through their annual tax bill, with the loan permanently tied to the property instead of the borrower. PACE is popular in states such as California and Colorado, and St. Lucie plans to lead the way in Florida by offering these popular loans to small businesses wishing to make improvements that will save money over time.
Not Your Typical Nonprofit
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, SELF keeps costs as low as possible to give property owners the greatest return on their investment. As SELF grows, it continues to seek donations, grants, and investments from lending institutions and foundations as well so that it can continue operating indefinitely. In the meantime, SELF is working to expand its services into the rest of the Treasure Coast and the Space Coast through partnerships with local governments and community organizations. Surrounding communities have opened their arms to SELF, whose future is as bright as the Florida sun. The Solar and Energy Loan Fund has the potential to become one of Florida’s leaders on energy efficiency financing, helping residents and business people while promoting the value of a Green Economy throughout the Sunshine State.
Solar and Energy Loan Fund Office
2400 Rhode Island Ave., Fort Pierce, Fla. 34950
(adjacent to Fire Station #1)