There is little doubt anymore that Berkeley solar rocks. For the past year or so, the city has been ironing out the details of its solar lending program, the most progressive in the world. Essentially, what the program will do is set up The Sustainable Energy Financing District, which makes Berkeley residents eligible for a very ambitious solar program.
The story started in 2006 when Berkeley voters passed a ballot measure vowing to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. In response, officials devised the new plan, recently finalized by a unanimous vote in the city council.
The program will effectually erase the biggest obstacle to residential solar installations: up-front costs.
Instead of coming up with roughly $30,000 just to get started, homeowners can apply for municipal loans up to $22,000 for a new solar system. The program is getting overall support from residents; one, because the tax increase is voluntary and, two, because eventually homeowners would likely save more money from reduction in energy costs than they are paying on the loan, all without exceptional up-front costs. Residents would pay off the loans by way of a voluntary property tax increase of about 180 dollars a month. Loan terms are 20 years.
The pilot program, scheduled to begin in October, will involve 50 homes in Berkeley and will require about $1.5 million to start up. That initial loan is the one piece of the puzzle that remains to be found. Homeowners will pay interest on the loans, which leads me to believe the program could pay for itself once it is off the ground. Considering the wealth of venture capital floating around the solar industry these days, and the worldwide interest in Berkeley’s precedent-setting program, it would seem the city is a shoo-in for the cash…