Petty Politics Freezes SF Solar Subsidies


Mayor Newsom’s hopes of making San Francisco a solar city were suddenly put on hold yesterday when Supervisor Jake McGoldrick issued a resolution freezing the $3 million the Mayor and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting had lined up for their Solar Incentive Rebate Program, which had been scheduled to launch as a pilot program on April 1. (The video is from our conversation with Mayor Newsom on March 18th, before the Supervisor’s most recent resolution.)

The program intends to provide rebates of $3,000 to $6,000 $5,000 for residential installations and up to $10,000 for commercial installations, with extra incentives for installers with offices in the city, including Akeena Solar, SolarCity and SunRun. The city hopes that the $3 million in public funding would leverage some $1.5 million in private investment to boost the city’s solar capacity to 55 megawatts from 5 megawatts on some 15,000 rooftops over the next 10 years.

“This is the kind of thing I’d expect from the White House not the city of San Francisco,” Akeena CEO Barry Cinnamon told us on Thursday. While Cinnamon says he thinks the citizens of San Francisco will suffer the most, he is also concerned about the solar installer industry, including Akeena, which have already spent a lot of money on marketing with the expectation that this program would go into effect next week.

And Akeena isn’t the only one. “We had committed to building a training academy in Bayview-Hunters Point to create green collar jobs,” SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive told us. “But without this program it’d be hard to justify that.” The academy would have trained 30 people every two months to install solar panels on San Franciscan roof tops, Rive says.

The Mayor’s office says McGoldrick is concerned that the rebate program will only benefit wealthy property owners and wonders if the money could be better spent on public solar projects. However, the SF Solar Task Force, an exploratory committee formed to determine the best way for San Francisco to go solar, determined that public solar installations, like the one on the Moscone Center, are not cost effective. Instead, the task force recommended that a rebate program could help leverage additional private capital to increase the city’s solar power capacity. The supervisor’s office has yet to respond to our inquiries on the subject.

A representative from the SF Solar Task Force said that they have every intention of having the program move forward. “We don’t want to pull back on it,” the rep said. “In the next 24 hours we have to figure out a way to keep it moving forward.” This will involve the Mayor’s office and industry representatives meeting with McGoldrick on Friday to work out a resolution.

This isn’t the first time the Board has backtracked on this program. Mayor Newsom told us last week that his office removed the program from the June ballot in good faith only to have the Board switch their votes and send the proposal back to committee. Now the earliest the voters could see this is November. “If we have to go to the votes with something we’ll go to the voters,” the rep from the Solar Task Force said. “It would be a shame not to do anything until the voters approve it in November.”

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