The best way for cities to support solar is to walk the walk and put solar on public buildings. There are two basic financing strategies to make a municipal solar purchase cost effective:
- Bundle the solar with energy efficiency. By reducing the overall amount of energy it needs to consume, a city’s investment in solar can be much more cost-effective. See the Moscone Center case study for an example.
- Instead of buying a solar system, buy solar electricity. Often called a Power Purchase Agreement or PPA, this model replaces solar’s upfront costs with a predictable, long-term contract for the power it generates. It also allows non-taxpaying organizations – like cities and schools – to take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for solar. PPAs allow the private system owner to take the tax credit and pass the savings on to the city in the form of lower electricity bills. The City of San Diego signed a 5 MW PPA below utility rates.
Want to do this yourself? Here are some sample RFPs from other cities that we think got it right.
Below are some more case studies of cities that chose to use solar to meet their own power needs. This is by no means a comprehensive list; rather, it’s meant to show some of the good company that solar cities keep. If your town has done something solar to be proud of, email the story to us.
The San Francisco Story
This was the one that got Vote Solar started. On November 6, 2001, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved a landmark $100 million bond initiative that paid for solar panels, energy efficiency and wind turbines for public facilities. The measure paid for itself entirely from energy savings at no cost to taxpayers. With this model, San Francisco pioneered a path for funding the transition to renewable energy.
The mechanics are simple. The city borrows money for solar panels and energy efficiency measures for public buildings. The money that would have gone to buy electricity from power plants instead goes to pay down the debt.
The campaign for the solar revenue bond happened because San Francisco residents, like many other Californians, were plagued by blackouts, skyrocketing prices and dirty neighborhood power plants. Large-scale solar power represents an important way for people to take greater control over their future by making their own affordable, reliable, and clean energy.
The effort to pass the measure became a consensus campaign. The measure earned the endorsement of organizations spanning the political spectrum from the Chamber of Commerce to the Sierra Club and almost every elected leader representing San Francisco from City Hall to Capitol Hill. The measure, which moved from a mere idea to approved legislation in less than 10 months, passed by 73%. Implementation is being handled by the city’s Public Utilities Commission. The first project to implemented was a 675 kW system on the roof of the Moscone Convention Center (PDF).
San Diego has been a major focus of Vote Solar’s efforts over the years. A blow-by-blow of the story can be found in Grist Magazine, but the digest goes like this: In 2003, Mayor Murphy and Councilmembers Frye and Zuchett passed resolution calling for 50 megawatts of renewable energy to be installed within city limits over the next 10 years. After a lot of work on the part of city staff, the city issued a Request for Proposals for 5 MW of solar on city facilities, and the final bid was accepted by the City Council Jan 30, 2006. Construction is taking place now — check back soon for pictures and progress updates.
Vote Solar has been working since 2003 to encourage the City to make investments in solar energy. We helped the City prepare a Request for Proposals for nearly 1 MW of solar issued in November of 2003; we worked to educate the City Council on the benefits, and on July 20, 2004, the Council gave its unanimous approval of the contract. The first 1 MW is now installed, and Vote Solar is helping the City identify sites, apply for rebate reservations, and issue RFPs for a further 5 MW of solar.
Vote Solar helped to initiate a new campaign in Richmond, California for a 5 MW solar commitment. Vote Solar made a presentation on municipal commitments to solar energy to a packed house of 60 people who came to the first “Solar Richmond” meeting; Vote Solar met with the Richmond City Manager, who gave his support; and on March 21st, the City Council voted unanimously to support a goal of developing 5 megawatts of solar photovoltaics on municipal, commercial and residential buildings by 2010.
The City sent a representative to our Solar Cities Summit, and in January of 2004, Mayor Jeremy Harris included a $10 million solar bond for city facilities in his budget request to the City Council. Vote Solar prepared an analysis of the fiscal and environmental impacts of the measure, and worked with local environmental organizations to help educate residents and City Council members of the benefits. Vote Solar also published an Op-Ed in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and got the actor/activist Robert Redford to send a letter of support. On June 4, 2004, the Council approved a $7.85 million bond for solar and energy efficiency efforts on city buildings.
California State University System
Vote Solar worked with student activist partners in the RenewCSU campaign to encourage the CSU Board of Trustees to pass a clean energy and green building resolution for all CSU campuses. The campaign came to a head on September 21, 2005, when the Board unanimously passed the resolution. The CSU is now committed to installing 10 MW of onsite renewable energy, such as solar, on its campuses. Vote Solar co-authored an article in Solar Today on the victory and will continue to assist the CSU as it develops procurement plans for solar systems.