Montgomery Councilmember Berliner Says ‘HELP Is On the Way’
Council’s Lead Member for Energy and Environment Introduces
Zero Interest Financing Plan to Retrofit Homes
ROCKVILLE, Md., February 24, 2009—Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D—District 1) today will introduce legislation that will create a County Home Energy Loan Program (HELP). The legislation has been cosponsored by five other members of the nine-member Council (Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Duchy Trachtenberg), signifying that the measure has the support it needs to become law.
“This measure will help our homeowners reduce their skyrocketing utility bills and their carbon footprint at the same time, while putting people to work in the new green economy,” said Councilmember Berliner. “It has broad support within the environmental and business community and it should impose almost no cost on the County thanks to the good work of Congressman Chris Van Hollen and the federal stimulus bill.”
Under HELP, a homeowner would voluntarily obtain a home energy audit from a certified auditor to identify the universe of cost effective measures. The homeowner would then take the results of the audit to the County, which would provide a zero interest loan to make the improvements.
The HELP program is among the top priorities of the County’s Sustainability Working Group, where Councilmember Berliner co-chaired the Residential Energy Efficiency Subcommittee.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s analysis, homes emit one third of all Montgomery County’s greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, while most homeowners would like to do the right thing and make their homes more energy efficient and use more renewable energy, they are deterred by three things:
• They don’t know what they need to do
• They may be unlikely to spend enough money, if they had it, to make a significant difference
• Home owners don’t know if they will be in their homes long enough to enjoy the pay back for the improvements
HELP addresses all of those issues directly.
The importance of HELP is the role local government plays. The loan would be secured through a lien on the homeowner’s property. This is the critical piece: the loan, which would be repaid over 15 years as a voluntary additional line item on the property tax, would run with the property—not with the homeowner that took out the loan. This allows a homeowner to entertain a more robust home retrofit as long as the annual loan costs are equal to, or less than, the savings on their utility bill. Monies could also be borrowed for the installation of renewable energy devices once the home is energy efficiency.
The program’s relationship to the home’s property tax takes away a homeowner’s concern that they may not be in the home long enough to make the improvements economically feasible. But knowing that a future homeowner could benefit from the improvements, and could share the cost through their future property tax bills, should provide incentive for more homeowners to make improvements that benefit them—and the surrounding community.
Since the costs of the loan are repaid through property taxes, the only costs of the program to the County are in obtaining the upfront dollars to initially fund the revolving loan program and the administrative costs associated with implementing the program. The federal stimulus bill provides funds that can be used for these purposes. Congressman Van Hollen expanded the zero-interest Energy Conservation Bond program to include loan programs like HELP. Funds from the Energy Efficiency Block Grant program could also be used to support HELP.
"I'm convinced that the path to a clean energy future lies in marrying forward-looking public policy with private sector innovation and initiative," said Congressman Van Hollen. "In that regard, I'm pleased that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains an unprecedented investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies—including new green bonding authority we developed—so that localities can pursue innovative ideas like the Home Energy Loan Program. I applaud Councilmember Berliner for moving forward so quickly on this initiative. I look forward to working with him and the rest of the County on this trailblazing local effort, as well as freestanding legislation I will soon be introducing to establish a similar Home Energy Savings Revolving Fund nationwide."