December 28, 2008

A COWmunity named WOODside should be the leader in promoting a sustainable lifestyle. We should shine a bright green light on these issues. It kind of feels like our Town has been taking little calf steps when it needs to be ahead of the HERD on green issues like solar power. At a minimum, Our COWncil should be exploring working in solar-darity with our COWnty and neighboring cities to develop programs to facilitate the use of solar and other energy saving techniques.

Berkeley has adopted a number of innovative programs which could serve as models. For example, they waive the building permit fees for solar installation on single-family homes. They have prepared a Green Remodeling Guide which is designed to help homeowners, builders and architects navigate the residential building permit process in making each project as healthy, energy-and resource-efficient as possible. The latest program, called the Berkeley FIRST Solar Financing, which is in a pilot phase, provides property owners an opportunity to borrow money from the City to install solar photovoltaic electric systems and allow the cost to be repaid over 20 years through an annual special tax on their property tax bill.

As we know, solar power systems eventually pay for themselves in reduced electric bills. The legislature is considering a bill whereby PG&E would even have to pay you for electricity that you don’t use. See the Wiggins bill (SB 7). But the cost of installation has deterred many from taking the plunge. There are concerns too about the possibility of footing the cost of installation for a home you may sell before you break. In Berkeley, the property owner would hire a city-approved solar installer, who would determine the best solar system for the property, depending on energy use. Most residential solar panel systems will cost from $15,000 to $20,000. The city would pay the contractor for the system and its installation, minus any applicable state and federal rebates, and would add an assessment to the property owner’s tax bill to pay for the system. The extra tax would include administrative fees and interest which would be lower than conventional financing. The tax would stay with the property even if the owner sold, although the owner would have to leave the solar panels. The property owner would save money on monthly Pacific Gas & Electric bill. After the assessment expired, the solar panels would continue to partly replace PG&E electricity.

Berkley has also partnered with the City of Oakland to retain private sector financing professionals to design a Clean Energy Fund that will include both private equity and municipal bond funding and will be available for clean energy projects. While this is not something that Woodside can consider on its own, it can initiate discussions on a County wide basis.

For information on California’s incentives and rebates for installing solar panels, go here. To read more, please go here.

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