By Alisha McDarris
For Hometown News
MARTIN COUNTY -- Not every homeowner has a spare $5,000 or $10,000 to drop on new energy efficient items for their home when they're tired of paying exorbitant energy bills or their air conditioner gives up the ghost.
That's why the Solar Energy and Loan Fund, part of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, is here to help.
It's a new way to save energy and money in a way that is accessible to most anyone. The nonprofit organization offers low interest rate loans for homeowners interested in financing for energy-saving improvements, including low-to-moderate income residents.
Local businesses and homeowners can apply for a loan, then an energy audit is conducted to determine what home energy improvements and cost-effective renewable energy alternatives will offer the best return on investment. Once a list is compiled of products like air conditioners, solar hot water heaters and insulation, SELF helps their clients choose from a list of recommended contractors and then goes one step further by managing the installation process.
"It's a headache we take off your plate," said Bill McConaghy, Clean Energy Specialist.
It's a service designed for families and individuals who want to invest in their home and reduce energy usage but don't have the funds for all of the initial expenses.
"There's an effort to serve the under-served," Mr. McConaghy said. "We're supposed to help the community; that's what the mission is."
In addition to helping loan recipients procure big ticket items like windows and solar panels, SELF also helps with the little things that can make a big difference like weatherization and energy efficient lighting and are saving their clients an average of 20 percent on their energy bills.
The organization has helped one resident save much more on his energy bill. A retired veteran was spending around $300 a month before SELF helped him acquire a new energy efficient air conditioner, insulation and weatherization and his last monthly FPL payment was reduced to $180. Next month's should be even lower now that the solar hot water heater has been installed.
Mr. McConaghy loves being able to provide that peace of mind and assistance to the community that he also calls home.
In the two years since the organization's inception, more than $2 million has been loaned to recipients on the Treasure Coast and just under $70,000 in Martin County since February.
SELF has also teamed up with the City of Stuart to provide free energy audits to a limited number of city residents interested in reducing their energy consumption and lowering their energy bills. All Stuart homeowners have to do is call.
"More people should take advantage of this service," Mr. McConaghy said.
For more information or to apply for a loan, contact the SELF office in Fort Pierce at (772) 468-1818 or the Stuart office at (772) 221-4060.