March 28th, 2011
We just launched our second Project: Permit state campaign – a neato combination of user-generated online map and tried-and-true Vote Solar advocacy – all in the name of streamlining local solar permitting processes. Last time around, our Arizona work helped drop Phoenix permitting fees from upwards of $1000 to $225 for expedited projects. This time the target is Colorado. » Read the rest of this entry «
October 22nd, 2009
PV panel prices are falling fast, but that’s not the whole picture. About half of solar’s total price tag comes from non-panel costs, factors like the cost of labor and overhead. Local permitting practices can put a serious damper on that part of the cost equation. The good news is, it’s also very much within the power of the local government (and a city’s residents) to change all that to make solar more accessible. And that’s what our new Project: Permit is all about . . .
First we’re tracking down current practices from around the nation and showcasing them through our interactive online map. By highlighting the real time and cost involved in solar permitting, we will be able to celebrate the cities who get it right and motivate the laggards to improve.
Then we’re helping local partners and solar friends implement best practices in the cities that need it most. Don’t like what you see in your hometown? We have a solar permitting toolkit with the resources you’ll need to convince your mayor and city council to get with the program.
Our campaign kicks-off with sunny Arizona. Thanks to help from our intrepid Vote Solar volunteers and in-state partners (special thanks American Solar Electric), we gathered data on the permitting practices in the major cities and towns.
And the results are in . . .
Top 5 Cities for Solar Permitting:
2. Fountain Hills
4. Yuma County
5. Pima County
It may not be a best dressed list, but we think it’s a whole lot sexier. Read all about it in our Arizona report.
Arizona’s just the beginning, stay tuned for more from states nationwide. If you have a few minutes to spare we could sure use your help adding permitting data for your city into the mix with this easy survey.
July 7th, 2009
Fast on the heels of Berkeley and Boulder, yesterday the city of Palm Desert opened their doors for applications for the city’s solar and efficiency home improvements program. Literally, opened the door to city hall at 8 a.m. to find over 50 people waiting since 6:30 in the morning. The $1.25 million set aside for solar loans was all reserved by 8:20 a.m. Story here: http://www.mydesert.com/article/20090706/NEWS01/90706010/0/OPINION02/Palm-Desert-energy-loans-for-solar-sell-out-in-20-minutes
More on Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing here.
May 8th, 2009
Francesca Vietor and I wrote an op-ed in the SF Chronicle in support, Board of Supes voted 7-4 for it, Sweet Melissa and the NYTimes blog each provided their take of the action, and now SF is on the way to having the country’s largest municipally owned solar system (until someone else beats it). Onwards…to the 2nd reading, then if successful there to the Mayor’s desk for signature.
May 5th, 2009
Maryland, New Mexico and Virginia just joined the municipal-tax assessment solar financing party (a trend I wrote about in February). We haven’t figured out a catchy acronym yet, but trust me, this policy is hot. The state legislators we are working with consistently tell me that this is their ‘favorite clean energy policy.’
Why so popular this legislative session? Frankly, it’s well suited for these troubled economic times. It’s meaningful solar policy that doesn’t add more red to strapped state budgets. It’s a fiscally painless way that legislators can help constituents go solar without breaking the bank. And it shows the feds that they’re taking the new green economy seriously.
State and Local Interplay
In most cases, local jurisdictions need authorization from statewide legislation before they can create property tax financing districts. Once statewide legislation is passed, cities can start programs that help property owners go solar without any daunting upfront costs. Instead, those home or business owners can choose to get a loan from the city to cover system costs and then pay it back over 20 years through a little bump in their property taxes.
Already this year we’ve seen Virginia, New Mexico and Maryland join California and Colorado in passing enabling legislation. And there are still several pending bills across the country: Nevada, New York, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin could all join the party in the few remaining weeks of this legislative session. We will keep you posted.
Considering the popularity of these programs in cities where they’re already up and running, this legislative trend spells exciting times ahead for solar all across the U.S. Take a look:
- Berkeley, California was the first out of the gate last year when it passed an ordinance to enable residents to spread out the cost of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency upgrades into a 20-year increased assessment on their property taxes. The FIRST program is still in the pilot project phase, with 40 homes participating, and $1.5 million budgeted.
- Boulder, Colorado held its first application period in early April with 519 properties signed up in one week. Their program’s first bond will be for $9.55 million to finance solar PV, solar thermal, and energy efficiency projects.
- San Francisco, California plans to disburse $20 million to $30 million in loans to home and business owners by the end of 2009.
February 20th, 2009
In a continued trend, solar is feeling the political love, from the feds on down to the municipal level. Interest in municipal tax assessment based finance programs is rapidly spreading. This type of financing removes the biggest barrier to solar – the upfront cost- and could fast become a key pathway to making solar accessible for more Americans.
You may remember when Vote Solar released a report on Berkeley’s pioneering new approach to solar financing, known as the “FIRST model.” The model helps homeowners go solar without breaking the bank. It works like this: the city finances the new solar energy system for the homeowner and wraps the cost into affordable property tax payments spread over 20 years.
The idea gained support immediately with cities like Berkeley, San Francisco and Boulder competing to launch their program first. However, there was real concern that participation in FIRST-styled programs could preclude access to the full solar investment tax credit. Fortunately, with leadership from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and support from SEIA and Vote Solar, the feds recently clarified that businesses and individuals who participate in these municipal programs also qualify for the full amount of the solar tax credit.
Next step is to pass enabling state legislation to authorize municipalities to offer FIRST-styled tax-assessment based finance options. Vote Solar is already working with local advocates and interested policy makers in eight states and counting (AZ, CA, MD, MI, NM, NV, TX, WI) to advance such legislation. If your state isn’t on the list, maybe we should talk. Email me at email@example.com if you want to clear the way for FIRST-styled programs in your state.
October 10th, 2008
Last November my hometown,Berkeley, announced they would loan homeowners the money for a rooftop solar system with no down payment in return for paying it off through property taxes. There goes my radical little city with another innovative solution.
I was so excited about this development and what it means for residential solar systems that I started researching the topic. Just this week, my colleague Annie Carmichael and I published a paper on the Municipal Property Tax Financing.
For solar nerds, it’s no secret that residential solar installations have lagged far behind commercial installations in the last several years. Residential solar installations have had to make due with a $2000 cap on the federal tax credit and without the creative solar financing arrangement know as a “power purchase agreement.” What that added up to was the need for some serious capital outlays for a homeowner to go solar.
Municipal property tax financing removes the upfront costs of going solar. This city financing scheme has several other sweet benefits. First, the loan payments are fixed for 20 years at reasonable interest rates. Second, the loans are neither dependant nor do they impact homeowner credit. Third, the loan is a tax assessment tied to the property, not the property owner, so if the current owner sells the remainder of the payments go to the next owner who also reaps the solar benefits.
I believe this innovative financing policy has the potential to greatly increase the amount of residential solar rooftops installations. Several cities- Palm Desert, Boulder- already have plans underway to offer this type of solar financing to their residents. And we have heard from many more city officials who are keenly interested.
California cities have the state go-ahead to implement a municipal property tax financing program. Cities in other states will need to amend state code to allow authority. The paper provides a how-to for other states.
If I had had to buy my 2004 Prius without easy access to financing, I wouldn’t have one. Now with the Berkeley solar financing, called BerkeleyFIRST (financing initiative for renewable and solar technology) I am calling my Berkeley landlords to get them interested in this win-win solar opportunity. That and waiting to own my own solar-powered house.
June 20th, 2008
Really big and important new municipal solar programs:
Vote Solar was founded out of a successful effort to put solar on public buildings in San Francisco, and now the city continues its pioneering ways. After a grueling series of hearings, on June 10th the Board of Supes approved a 10 yr, $3 mil incentive program that will help put upwards of 55 MW on 10,000 roofs. More info here. It’s a big deal, and will help put SF on a path to greater energy independence and fewer carbon emissions. Many thanks to City Assessor Phil Ting, whose solar task force suggested the idea, and Supervisors Dufty, Alioto-Pier, Ammiano, Chu, Elsbernd, Maxwell, Sandoval and Mirkarimi who vetted it and voted it through. Next step: a solar loan program, ala the Berkeley model. Many thanks to Claudia Eyzaguirre for her tireless organizing and helping to rally grassroots on this!
Well…San Francisco held unchallenged title to Nation’s Largest Municipal Solar Program for, well, all of a week. On June 17th, the NY State Legislature passed a bill to provide a 35% property tax abatement for solar installed in New York City, a plan born of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC. That’s also really big deal-there are a lot of rooftops in Queens and environs.
Which city will be #1? We propose a friendly wager on solar development. What say you, Mayors Newsom and Bloomberg? Care to put up some money and bragging rights on, say, greatest per capita amount of solar installed in your fair cities by 2015?
February 8th, 2007
I had no idea it would be this hard to do a serious solar project in the city of San Francisco. No idea at all.
On Wednesday, the SF Budget and Finance Committee, after vigorous discussion and tons of testimony, moved the 5 MW Sunset Solar Project out of committee—with no recommendation–and to the full board for a vote on Tuesday, April 28th.
The main reason it got this far is because Supervisor Avalos felt it was due to all the community support it received. See his comment on this blog post. He is to be thanked for his leadership.
Now, you may be thinking: San Francisco has passed resolutions requiring 100% clean power. It’s a green city, Supervisors are famously progressive—what’s not to like?
A lot, apparently. What’s frustrating is that all the issues that have been raised have very good answers.
Some supervisors wanted to make sure that the jobs go to disadvantaged communities. Recurrent signed a First Source hiring agreement (pdf) that guarantees 30% of the jobs go to economically disadvantaged communities. I challenge you to find a better workforce development agreement. Truly a gold standard.
Some have expressed concerns about using a power purchase agreement for this project, instead of the City buying it outright. That’s an easy issue to deal with. A power purchase agreement is the only way that the city, a non-taxpaying entity, can make use of the 30% federal investment tax credit. The SFPUC calculates that if the City were to finance and build the project on its own, it would cost $25 million more.
That’s why PPAs are the only way municipal utilities and cities have purchased solar in significant quantities over the last several years. PPAs are what the Sacramento Municipal Utility District uses. It’s what the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is proposing to use. And in fact, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) would also use PPAs.
Others are concerned that this isn’t public power. In fact, the City has the opportunity to buy the project out at 7, 15, and 25 years—after the tax benefits are fully exhausted. It’s what public power agencies use. And again, CCA would use PPAs as well. The concern frankly just doesn’t make sense.
Some supervisors also questioned the necessity of a waiver of the city administrative code that would make future payment on the contract subject to annual appropriation of funds. In fact, this waiver is needed in order to obtain financing of the project, and is typical in municipal contracts of this sort. Banks are not willing to provide the capital to construct the project without a fixed payment stream. This is very similar to a home mortgage or any other long-term debt obligation. The SFPUC investigated the issue with various PPA providers, large financial institutions, and attorneys to try to find a way to finance the project without the waiver. All of the banks and PPAs providers objected to this language as it made the project un-financeable. In addition, the SFPUC and City Attorney’s Office reviewed many other PPAs with other public entities, such as the City of Thousand Oaks, Yuba City, and the AC transit Authority. All of these PPAs waived this requirement in order to finance the project.
Finally, the San Francisco Bay Guardian has recommended that the Supervisors delay on action, and pass a resolution instead.
Resolutions have been passed before, and the polar ice caps are still melting and San Francisco residents are still unemployed. It’s time to put people to work and fight global warming with real projects, not rhetoric.
Because if San Francisco can’t find the way to getting serious about solar, then I say: Humanity, put a fork in yourself. You are done.