Energy loans hit a bump
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 18, 2012
Homeowners seeking loans to make their houses energy-efficient and the agency making the loans have discovered that good intentions aren’t enough.
Some owners say they need the money up front, that they can’t afford to pay the cost and wait to be repaid. But the Jackson Hole Energy Sustainability Project, which administers the loans, pays only after a project has been installed, inspected and proven to cut energy use. The state, which provides money for the loans, set those rules.
Members of the Energy Sustainability Project board said Wednesday they understood the risk of handing over the money and possibly finding projects incomplete or installed incorrectly. It’s also possible people might purchase a water heater or new windows with the loan money and then let them sit in their garage for a year or turn around and sell them for a profit, said Shelley Simonton, executive director of the energy project.
Still, Simonton said, “A lot of the consumers in the residential loan program are struggling because they need the money up front. ... It’s been a little bit of a problem.”
Board member John Reed agreed: “If someone legitimate is trying to do a window job and planning on having everything built perfectly and the loan isn’t there, I can see their frustration,” he said.
But Mayor Mark Barron said the board has to follow the state’s rules.
“It’s not our money,” Barron said. “We’re responsible for it.”
Since the program began doling out loans this summer, 15 homeowners have received about $100,000. About five owners have asked if they could receive the money before beginning work on their project, Simonton said.
Most of the projects cost about $7,500 and focus on installing energy-efficient windows. For some projects, residents can receive loans up to $20,000. Many of those involve solar heating.
Members of the board, which includes representatives from the town, the county and Lower Valley Energy, talked Wednesday about how to deal with the issue.
Owners might be able to get short-term bank loans for the work, Simonton said.
But Reed thought that unlikely: “I don’t see why a bank would touch that,” he said. “It’s not worth the paperwork.”
Town Manager Bob McLaurin sug-gested the town could pay part of the money in advance, taking responsibility for the work and the financing. Simonton thought that might be more than the board’s duty.
“The point is, we’re not a bank,” Simonton said. “We’re here to get energy efficiency in homes that can make it happen.”