Progressive Environmental Policy & Drive-Through Ban

Palm Desert, California Celebrates Passage of Energy Independence Act

Sponsors unprecedented state bill allowing cities to provide low-interest loans to residents making energy-saving improvements to homes or businesses; strengthens citywide commitment to solar energy

Last update: 12:00 p.m. EDT July 28, 2008
PALM DESERT, Calif., Jul 28, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Already an innovator in its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, the city of Palm Desert last week got one step closer to realizing its goal of reducing citywide energy consumption by 30 percent before 2011. Governor Schwarzenegger last week signed Assembly Bill 811 into law as an “urgency measure,” for the first time allowing city governments throughout California to provide loans to property owners planning home or business improvements that will reduce energy consumption. The bill, termed locally the Energy Independence Act, was written and lobbied for by Palm Desert’s civic leaders.
Palm Desert’s City Council is working to formulate a strategy to put the bill into effect locally as quickly and simply as possibly. The city plans to provide loans for as little as $5,000, with no upper limit, for improvements such as efficient air-conditioning systems, lighting systems, water-heating equipment, refrigerators, or pool pumps; and installation of solar panels, white roofs, or insulation–anything that will reduce electricity consumption and is considered a permanent fixture. The city will provide low-interest loans requiring no credit checks or other qualifications other than a property title. The loans will be paid back as part of the residents’ tax bill–meaning if the home or business is sold, the loan stays with the property.
“Two years ago, we set a lofty goal of reducing our energy use by 30 percent, and now we have the means to accomplish it,” said Councilman Jim Ferguson, who spearheaded the passage of the Energy Independence Act. “During the summer months, when temperatures regularly reach over 100 degrees, Palm Desert residents can pay up to $1000 a month for electricity. This program will empower them to explore renewable energy sources and make meaningful changes for the environment as well as their own finances.”
The city has enlisted the expertise of EcoMotion, a consulting company that also advises cities such as Anaheim and Santa Monica on their environmental initiatives. Under the leadership of president Ted Flanigan, EcoMotion will coordinate and help facilitate the loan program. Flanigan will also work to document Palm Desert’s carbon footprint and suggest further improvements to the city’s already aggressive energy- and emissions-reduction programs.
“Palm Desert is unbelievably progressive,” said Flanigan. “I really salute them for having the creativity and foresight to change state law in this historic way.”
Classifying the reduction of a city’s energy consumption and carbon footprint as “public good” is a groundbreaking approach, and opens the door for cities across the state to adopt similar programs. AB811 updates sections of California’s Streets and Highways Code that allow cities to set up assessment districts to pay for public improvements such as sewers and roads. Mindful of the far-reaching possibilities, Palm Desert will work to create a program that can be easily replicated elsewhere. Berkeley, Santa Monica and Palm Springs are also researching similar programs, which will likely be modeled after Palm Desert’s Energy Independence Program.
Besides creativity, another major asset in Palm Desert is sunshine. With 350 days of sunshine each year and an average of 5.5 hours of high-quality solar insulation per day, the city far outperforms the national average and is an ideal site for sun-powered energy systems. Home solar systems last up to 40 years, so the Energy Independence Act allows homeowners to finance systems – using the good credit of the city – with long-term loans to match the long-term benefits of solar.
In a city so dependent on electricity for features such as air conditioning and pool pumps, energy-efficient improvements represent a long-term investment and increase the value of homes and businesses. Palm Desert aims to begin providing loans by the end of August, and plans to bring funding to the Energy Independence Program through the sale of municipal bonds–allowing investors across the country to bring a new level to their socially responsible investment plans.
The Energy Independence Program is just one more way Palm Desert is thinking green. In 2006, the city introduced a new government division, the Office of Energy Management, and unveiled Set to Save: its unprecedented plan to cut energy consumption by 30 percent–or 215 million kilowatt hours of electric energy–in five years. The plan is the most ambitious of its kind in California and provides incentives to businesses and residents engaging in energy-saving behavior. Palm Desert has since then opened 141 energy-efficient apartments for low- and middle-income families, including several that are partially fueled by solar energy.

That same year, Palm Desert passed a law requiring all new construction to surpass state energy requirements by 10 to 15 percent. It’s also banned drive-through restaurants, waived permit fees on the installation of photovoltaic solar systems in homes and businesses and declared electric golf carts street-legal. Palm Desert has the only LEED-certified visitor center in the United States and opened the country’s first environmentally sound public golf course 10 years ago. For more information, visit www.cityofpalmdesert.org.

SOURCE: Palm Desert
Nancy J. Friedman Public Relations
Gina Masullo, 212-228-1500
gina@njfpr.com
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