Berkeley solar power world domination

An innovative plan to promote residential solar power installations gains momentum.

Published April 17, 2009 8:01PM (EDT)

To paraphrase the former CEO of GM, Charlie Wilson, what's good for Berkeley is good for the country... In November 2007, How the World Works highlighted an innovative proposal from the Berkeley City Council to encourage residential installations of solar power panels.

The city foots the bill for the installation, but homeowners retain ownership and pay the city back over 20 years via an annual property assessment. And if they sell their house before the bill is completely paid off, no worries -- the liability for the remaining bill, along with the solar panels, goes to the next owner of the house.

The program officially started in February, with the initial forty slots "selling out" in nine minutes flat. No surprise there -- just typical Berkeley behavior.

Now comes legislation introduced by State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) that aims to make it easier for other California cities to follow Berkeley's example.

The California Chronicle reports:

A bill by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) allowing cities and counties to help finance solar energy systems and energy efficiency improvements on individual properties passed the Senate Local Government Committee.

The bill gives cities and counties the ability to establish a local financing authority to help property owners pay for energy efficiency improvements and solar installations.

The measure, SB 279, was approved on a 4-1 vote.

The new law is necessary because, unlike Berkeley, most Californian cities are "non-charter" cities governed primarily according to state statutes and don't have the authority to issue their own bonds as they see fit.

So first Berkeley, then all of California. How long before the federal government pays attention? And one other question: Who would vote against such a sensible measure? The California Senate's Local Government Committee has three Democrats and two Republicans. The lone nay vote came from Republican Sam Aanestad, who represents a rural Northern Californian district and previously was one of the five state senators who voted no on California's landmark Million Solar Roofs initiative. At least he's consistent.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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