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St. Lucie County, Florida

Solar and Energy Loan Fund

Location: St. Lucie County; Brevard County; City of Fellsmere; City of Sebastian; City of Stuart; Indian River County; Martin County; Okeechobee County
Seed Funding: $2.9 million
Target Building Type: Residential and commercial
Learn More: Facebook: Clean Energy Loan Program - St. Lucie County
View Presentations: Presentation to Board of County Commissioners
November 22, 2011

St. Lucie County, Florida, Helps the Treasure Coast Cash in on Energy Savings and Renewable Energy

In the heat of Florida, homes with leaky windows and doors cause homeowners to waste a lot of energy when trying to air condition their homes. St. Lucie County, the heart of Florida's Treasure Coast, is working to help homeowners reduce their rising utility bills caused by hurricane damage, poorly sealed openings, and other types of energy waste.

St. Lucie County wanted to take its efforts beyond the building envelope, however, and provide homes with "whole house" energy efficiency upgrades. Using $2.9 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF), a non-profit program promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, will help upgrade homes in St. Lucie County and beyond with a variety of energy efficiency measures. In February 2013, SELF will open a full-time satellite office in the city of Stuart, Florida, and part-time offices in Indiantown, Okeechobee, and Sebastian, Florida. To accommodate this growing presence, a clean energy specialist and a community outreach coordinator were hired.

Financing: Low-Interest Loans Make Upgrades Affordable
Driving Demand: Harnessing Sunshine Helps the State Save Energy First
Workforce Development: Creating "Green Collar" Professionals

Low-Interest Loans Make Upgrades Affordable

Any St. Lucie County homeowner or business owner can sign up to participate in the program, which has a focus on making it easier to qualify for loans. The program includes a $25 application fee, but offers rebates for the home evaluation, bringing the cost down from about $400 to only $25. After the evaluation, a certified energy expert helps the homeowner understand the results and prioritize projects with the most value. Homeowners can then select the upgrades they wish to finance through the SELF program from a list of 18 approved measures, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; window and door upgrades; attic insulation; and duct work. SELF offers loans up to $50,000 with a 4% interest rate for efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to residences.

The program uses a revolving loan fund capitalized with seed money from Better Buildings to sustain low-interest rates. A credit committee composed of bankers from St. Lucie County financial institutions helps review loan applications and maintain the integrity of the loan program. In the future, SELF plans to offer loans for small businesses at interest rates as low as 7% and employ a property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing program, which would tie costs to the property itself and allow the loan to be paid through property tax bills. This way, if the property is sold, payments stay with those receiving the cost-saving benefits of energy efficiency.

SELF is in the process of establishing itself as a community development financial institution (CDFI), which will augment its standing as a non-profit "bank" providing low-interest loans for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements. This designation will provide access to more funding and ensure that SELF will continue to serve St. Lucie County for years to come. In addition to receiving a $65,000 Treasury Department grant as an emerging CDFI, SELF is gathering proposals to create a marketing, research/analysis, and business/financial modeling plan.

SELF is helping homeowners increase their comfort, improve the health of their living conditions, and save money on their utility bills. Its first customer was a woman with a broken air conditioner who was living in a sweltering home because she couldn't afford a new air-conditioner. SELF's loan program removed that obstacle; she now lives in cool comfort and is considering other cost-saving measures that she learned about through SELF's low-cost home energy evaluation.

In October 2012, SELF announced a partnership with EcoCity Partners to expand services and enable even more residential and commercial property owners to access financially viable ways of improving energy efficiency in their homes and buildings. EcoCity Partners, a St. Petersburg-based low-profit limited liability company, works with municipalities to develop sustainability programs that create jobs, benefit the environment and help consumers save money. Together, the two organizations offer a full package of energy efficiency loan options for residents and small businesses.

Harnessing Sunshine Helps the State Save Energy First

The move to harness the sun's energy to power homes has been gaining ground the past several years in Florida, but the upfront implementation costs remain a deterrent. SELF considers solar energy upgrades in St. Lucie County the perfect incentive to get homeowners invested in energy efficiency first.

Through SELF, homeowners can receive a loan for solar energy upgrades after meeting certain energy efficiency thresholds. For example, if a home energy evaluation shows that the home's envelope is already sealed (or will be sealed as part of the work), a homeowner will qualify for a loan for solar panels. Solar hot water heaters are also included as an energy efficiency measure, unless they are used to heat swimming pools.

SELF is working with community organizations, affordable housing groups, and local energy professionals to get the word out about saving energy in St. Lucie County. Initial media outreach about the program resulted in enough public interest to generate 130 application requests and helped spread the news about program benefits.

Creating "Green Collar" Professionals

SELF has also partnered with the Green Collar Task Force, which has an apprentice program for new contractors, and Indian River State College, which offers programs for Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification and solar technology. The college is constructing a $20 million alternative energy complex that will result in an unprecedented level of energy efficiency and renewable energy education on the Treasure Coast. These partnerships will help ensure there is a qualified workforce to meet the growing demand for energy improvements and renewable energy installations that SELF is helping to create.


Doug Coward

U.S. Department of Energy
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program