Berkeley on Friday hands over checks to the first two homeowners who tapped the California city’s pioneering solar financing program to install solar arrays.
The city fronts the cash for rooftop solar panels for any Berkeley business or homeowner, who pays back the cost through a 20-year surcharge on their property tax bill. If a home is sold, the surcharge rolls over to the new owner. The city council created a Sustainable Energy Financing District and launched a $1.5 million pilot program for the Berkeley FIRST Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology) in November to finance 40 rooftop systems. It took all of nine minutes for those 40 slots to be filled when the online application went live.
Berkeley issued a bond for the programs that was bought by Oakland-based Renewable Funding, which financed the solar arrays and whose president, Francisco DeVries, devised the Berkeley program when he served as Mayor Tom Bates’ chief of staff. Renewable Funding now is taking the program nationwide as cities from Portland to Tuscon consider adopting similar solar financing schemes. Under legislation enacted last year, any California city can implement a Berkeley-style program.
Municipal financing of solar arrays has become even more attractive since October when Congress lifted a $2,000 cap on federal tax credits for residential systems. Homeowners now can claim a tax credit for 30% of the cost of a solar system. When a state rebate is added, the cost of going solar in California has fallen by half.
Municipal financing programs are good news for solar panel makers and installers like SunPower (SPWRA), SunTech (STP), Akeena (AKNS) and First Solar (FSLR), the thin-film solar company that recently jumped into the residential market.
On Friday, Berkeley homeowner Jeanne Pimentel will receive a check from the mayor to hand over Borrego Solar, which installed her solar panels while homeowner Aaron Mann will sign his check over to Sungevity.