December 14th, 2010
Outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom’s launches one last initiative before leaving for Lt Gov duties in Sacramento: a goal of 100% renewable power for SF by 2020. That’s bold, but more importantly, it gives us the excuse to share some pictures of how to get there. Behold, an aerial photo of the new, just dedicated 5 MW solar power plant, built by Recurrent Energy, on the Sunset Reservoir: » Read the rest of this entry «
April 6th, 2010
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is installing 5 MW of PV on the Sunset Reservoir (technically, under a PPA with Recurrent Energy). The mayor held a press event today to celebrate…well, to celebrate the fact that construction is underway. About a quarter done–5,000 Suntech 210 w panels on Sunlink racks, another ~20,000 to go.
This is just one plank in SF’s clean energy efforts. In addition to this wholesale solar project, the city offers incentives for self-generation with solar, and is launching a major financing program for energy efficiency, water conservation, and clean energy retrofits.
And lest anyone not get that clean tech leadership means jobs, lets highlight the fact that Recurrent (a SF-based company) subbed the install to the local Bass Electric (top-notch, having had the experience with a lot of large-scale installs under their belt), who agreed to hire 30% of the install crew from the 7 most-disadvantaged zip codes in the city, including graduates from the SF CityBuild training program. Suntech is providing the panels (North American HQ in SF, 60 + employees), and Sunlink is providing the racking system (based across the bay in Richmond).
It’s really a beautiful site–see more pics here.
A view as iconic as the Golden Gate
February 8th, 2010
Moments ago, on a sunny rooftop just across town from Vote Solar’s office, Mayor Gavin Newsom signed the final piece of legislation needed to get San Francisco’s PACE program off the ground. When it launches on March 1, GreenFinanceSF will provide $150 million in bonding capacity to help property owners cover the cost of energy efficiency, water conservation and – you guessed it – solar improvements.
That makes it the country’s biggest PACE program – the municipal finance model that translates upfront costs into manageable property tax payments spread over 20 years. City leaders also emphasized the breadth of the program, which is designed to allow participation from many different income levels and makes financing available for an impressive spectrum of eco-upgrades (hello new EV charging station!). Our neighbors across the bay at Renewable Funding will be administering the program.
GreenFinanceSF will make solar and other green improvements accessible to more San Franciscans, and in doing so support new local jobs and a more sustainable future. That’s why, when the Mayor called it the single most important environmental announcement he’s made, it’s not just talk. The opportunity for carbon reduction through PACE programs is huge. The built environment is responsible for 72% of electricity use and 36% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Changing that carbon-equation is a tremendous challenge, and PACE represents a practical way of making real and immediate gains happen. Remove the upfront cost barrier and deliver immediate utility bill savings, and you’ve got a recipe for clean energy adoption at an entirely new scale.
We’re working hard to enable programs like this across the country, so we’re excited to see San Francisco come out of the gate so strong. 17 states have authorized PACE programs over the past 18 months. That is serious progress on the path to making solar mainstream. Let’s keep that momentum high, because there’s still plenty of work to be done . . .
Making it official: Mayor Newsom signs the last piece of legislation needed to green-light the city's PACE program. City Assessor and solar champion Phil Ting watches in the foreground.
November 16th, 2009
On Dec 3, SolarTech is sponsoring a symposium here in San Francisco to discuss a systems approach to dealing with the solar permitting challenge. It’s got a great line-up of participants, including leadership of the City of San Jose, the City of San Francisco’s Department of Environment, PG&E and the Department of Energy’s Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (SolarABCs). We’ll be there. Maybe even you, too? Check out the details 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.
April 24th, 2009
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 and found that this was the only way 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.
For those interested in data as well as other project details, see http://www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/bdsupvrs/bosagendas/materials/090093.pdf
April 21st, 2009
On Earth Day, San Francisco could strike a powerful blow against global warming by building the nation’s largest municipal solar project. Or, it could…well, not.
The choice is in the hands of the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors, who are considering a 5 MW photovoltaic installation for the Sunset Reservoir at 11 AM on Wednesday, April 22.
Here’s the background. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has spent the last year developing a solar project for the Sunset Reservoir, at 24th and Noriega. It would be comprised of 25,000 solar modules, covering an area the size of twelve football fields. At 23.5 cents/kWh, the price is significantly cheaper than recent solar projects by Southern California Edison and the Gainesville Regional Utility. And because it generates inside of city limits, it’s particularly valuable to San Francisco’s energy security.
When the project went before the Budget and Finance Committee for the first time last month, it received some unexpected opposition. Several Supervisors had significant questions about the project–for example, wondering why the City didn’t buy the project outright, instead of financing it through a power purchase agreement. That’s an easy one–a power purchase agreement allows the city (a non-taxpaying entity) to effectively harness the 30% federal investment tax credits. It’s pure fiscal prudence.
The good news is that all the questions and concerns raised at the initial hearing have similarly easy and compelling answers. For more, you can find a comprehensive Q and A here (pdf).
If this project doesn’t pass now, it will effectively be years before we will see any concrete implementation of solar at this scale.
This is a precedent-setting decision for the City and the country. If the City’s famously progressive supervisors can’t find it in them to support solar on Earth Day, well, this whole idea of fighting global warming is going to be a lot harder than I thought.
Let’s not take that chance. If you are a San Francisco resident, please take a moment to contact the Supes now:
Or give your Supervisor a call. Or show up at the hearing. This project is too important to fail. Note that if the Budget Committee votes in favor, it goes before the full Board on the 28th.
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.
August 24th, 2008
Following on the trend of providing solar education at concerts (see Maroon VI post), Vote Solar participated in the eco-village at Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco.
Over the course of the weekend, Vote Solar reeled in hundreds of concert-goers with an enticing proposition: take the solar quiz — get 3 out of 5 questions right and win a stylish Vote Solar t-shirt for free. Yes, that’s what I said, folks: FREE. Here is Daniel showing off our PV panel-mounted quiz:
Here are some happy t-shirt winners and budding solar activists:
Claudia, Vote Solarian, working the booth:
Here I am (right) taking a break from grueling booth duties with Trent, trusty volunteer, to catch a show: