Court deals blow to county energy retrofit program

A legal fight to protect a program that allows Sonoma County residents to pay for energy-saving retrofits to their homes through property taxes was dealt a significant and possibly final setback last week.

The court fight is over tighter federal lending requirements that Sonoma County officials and others say hamper such programs by scaring off homeowners.

The new guidelines were crafted by a federal agency in 2009 amid a historic wave of home foreclosures and were intended to minimize further default risks for the recession-wracked lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The move prompted lawsuits from Sonoma County, the state of California and other public and private entities who said those risks were overblown. Their combined case against the Federal Housing Finance Agency said its new guidelines undermined the government-financed retrofit programs and harmed participating homeowners.

The programs enable a range of energy and water-saving upgrades, including solar panels, plumbing and heating improvements on homes and businesses.

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