TRAVERSE CITY — Paying for new insulation, a furnace or solar panels will get easier for Traverse City Light & Power’s residential customers.
City commissioners on Monday approved partnering with the city-owned utility to create on-bill financing for energy efficiency upgrades or renewable power projects.
That’s thanks to a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed specifically at funding these types of programs.
The city bills TCL&P’s customers on the utility’s behalf, so the partnership allows the utility to implement the program, city Manager Marty Colburn said.
“It’s a very exciting program in regards to reducing carbon footprints, and it also gives an opportunity to many city residents that they otherwise would not have,” he said.
Customers can borrow $5,000 to $30,000 after getting an energy audit of their home, utility Energy Technician Jacob Hardy previously told commissioners. Larger loans would help customers realize even more energy savings, either by buying more efficient appliances or by tackling a few projects at once — insulation, windows, furnace and thermostat, for example.
Borrowers can pay these loans off a bit at a time on their power bills over up to 10 years, as previously reported. The utility is angling for a $1.8 million USDA Rural Energy Savings Program grant to underwrite it.
The loans are interest-free, save a 5-percent administration fee the utility will charge, as previously reported.
TCL&P can charge interest if it chooses to loan out its own funds on top of those from the USDA, and Commissioner Brian McGillivary requested that the utility keep any interest rates low if it goes this route.
Those who don’t pay back their loans face a lien on their property, utility Controller Karla Myers-Beman said. That means an extra charge will show up on their property tax bill.
The program will be open to customers in single-family homes or landlords who own buildings with four units or less, and with no late payments in the last 12 months, among other criteria, Hardy previously said.
But don’t apply just yet. Tim Arends, utility executive director, said TCL&P will send its final application to USDA soon for the funds. That could take about four months, and the utility plans on rolling out the program in spring 2020.
Arends also believes the program could let city residents make upgrades to their homes who couldn’t afford it using traditional financing. That could lead to lower bills through decreased power consumption, and improved housing stock in the city, he said.