Berkeley to help fund residents' solar energy projects

The new loan system stems from the city's 2006 measure to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Published September 18, 2008 3:10PM (EDT)

While global financial markets were flipping out and Gov. Palin's e-mail was getting hacked, something a little greener was going down at the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night.

The council unanimously approved a measure that would establish the Sustainable Energy Financing District and give municipal loans to Berkeley property owners who install solar power systems in their house, apartment or building. That vote, reports the New York Times, gives the last necessary approval to create a "special property-tax district," which property owners could decide to join.

This makes Berkeley the first city in the nation to use city loans to encourage the building of solar energy infrastructure.

Here's how the program works: If you're a Berkeley resident, you can apply to the city for a loan of up to $22,000 (paid off over 20 years) to put solar on your property.

Each property owner would basically pay an extra voluntary property tax of $182 to cover the costs of the solar infrastructure at his or her home or building. However, some of that money would be recouped as the cost of one's energy bill dropped over time.

Reports the San Francisco Chronicle:

On a typical $22,000 solar energy system, residents would pay about $180 a month, based on a 6.75 interest rate, after state and federal rebates are issued. At some point the homeowner would save more on their electricity bill than they're spending on the solar tax, if energy rates continue to climb.

The initial pilot program will involve 50 homes, and the city will need to raise $1.5 million to get it off the ground. (Berkeley doesn't as yet have a lender, but it's working on it.)

The new solar initiative is part of a two-year-old effort by the city to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions -- local voters passed a ballot measure in 2006 that aims to reduce the entire city's emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Apparently cities around the country and around the globe are closely following how this program plays out -- it's easy to see why. This is one of the most creative public programs that I've ever seen for trying to get individual homes to use solar power.

But with all the financial rockiness going on right now, Christine Daniel, a deputy city manager, admitted to the New York Times, it may be tough for the city to secure a lender and to expand the program.

That said, given all the V.C. money going toward green tech these days, maybe it will work out after all.

By Cyrus Farivar

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