Monday, December 14, 2009
AB811 Residential Solar Financing Oakland
Oakland has become the latest city to allow residents to finance solar panels, insulation, new refrigerators and other efficiency improvements through their property tax bills. "This is a dream way to do solar," City Council President Jane Brunner said. "The problem with solar has always been the up-front costs. This eliminates that problem."
The council unanimously voted to join California First, a state plan based on the solar financing package first adopted by Berkeley in 2007.
The plan allows residential and commercial property owners to make energy improvements without paying up-front costs. Instead, they pay installments through their property tax bill over a 20- or 30- year period, in most cases at a lower interest rate than what they could obtain individually.
The investment can be recouped through savings on energy bills, coupled with federal tax credits and rebates as high as $15,000 from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Contractors approved by California First perform the installation work and are paid up front by California First.
Since Berkeley adopted its plan, hundreds of cities, counties and 17 states have enacted their own versions. Oakland's program differs from Berkeley's in that it allows energy efficiency projects besides solar panels and the number of participating property owners is not capped.
"Property owners should start to see a savings on their energy bills on day one," said Garrett Fitzgerald, Oakland's sustainability coordinator. "That's our expectation." The city will bear no financial liability, although it will pay $20,000 for administrative costs, Fitzgerald said. The property tax payments stay with the property even if it is sold.
Some solar installers said the plans, so far, have had mixed results."On paper it's a very good idea," said Szilard Szabo, partner of Super Solar in Oakland. "But the financing seems to be falling through." He said some clients are obtaining cheaper interest rates on their own. Despite the number of cities adopting the program, he said he has not seen an increase in clients referred through the financing plans.
In Oakland, property owners can sign up for projects ranging from $5,000 to $75,000 or 10 percent of the value of their property. The program will get under way in June. Property owners should check the city's Web site, www.oaklandnet.com, for enrollment information in coming weeks.