San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled a new solar energy plan this week aimed at boosting commercial and residential solar in the city. The package of proposals would offer direct financing as well as long-term loans that would be paid back as tax assessments. In 2000, the city set a goal of 10,000 solar rooftops installed within 10 years; it currently has just 660 such installations. The proposals mirror the program that could be in effect in nearby Berkeley next summer, which also addresses the high upfront cost of solar.
The difficulty of financing solar panels has kept residential solar a luxury item, but San Francisco’s new plan would cut the upfront cost by more than half. Barry Cinnamon, president of the California Solar Energy Industries Association and CEO of Akeena Solar, told the Associated Press that he estimates that a rooftop solar installation in San Francisco costs about $24,000. Under the new proposal, a customer could get back a $4,000 city rebate, a similar $7,000 state refund, and a $2,000 federal tax credit, bringing the upfront cost down to $11,000.
The new funding could finally start moving panels downstream, kicking installation companies into high gear and providing employment for hundreds of new green-collar workers. Programs like this one would also take the strain off startups that have been doing everything they can to cut costs. Energy Innovations President Andrew Beebe recently described the commercial solar sector as being in a “land grab.”
Phil Ting, a city assessor-recorder, has explained that while property owners would have to apply for the rebates, the money could go directly to the contractor doing the installation. The Solar Incentive (Rebate) Program plans to distribute from $2 million to $5 million over the next 10 years while the city hopes to repurpose $50 million to fund the loans. The loan program needs approval from voters as a ballot initiative and the rebate program must be approved by the city’s Board of Supervisors. Our fingers are crossed, as programs like this may finally push the industry past the early-adoption stage.