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San Francisco Provides Comprehensive Incentives In Push For Solar Power

Justin Sternberg | Thursday October 16th, 2008 | 1 Comment

solar-time.jpgIn July, San Francisco launched GoSolarSF a 10-year solar rebate program designed to accelerate the build out of the city’s clean energy infrastructure. On September 30th, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that applications for new solar installations have quadrupled since then, putting the city on track to double its installed capacity by next year. Under the program, city residents will receive rebates between $3,000-$6,000 off the cost of a solar system, while businesses are eligible for up to $10,000 in savings.

San Francisco has identified 1600 business as likely candidates for solar installations. Combined, the target businesses use a total of 170 MW of power. The city’s current solar installation capacity is 5 MW – a ¬Ω percent of the city’s 1 GW of total annual consumption. With help from a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, San Francisco will begin offering these businesses free energy efficiency and solar audits. The energy efficiency audits will be conducted first and are designed to drive down the businesses’ consumption of energy, thereby enabling smaller and less costly solar systems to cover their remaining energy needs.

When the municipal rebate is combined with the Federal Solar Tax Credit and California Solar Initiative rebate, all but $4,000-$6,000 of a solar installation would be covered by rebates, according to Newsom. Innovative financing, such as power purchase agreements offered by certain solar installers make it is possible that home and business owners would see no upfront costs to convert to solar electricity. San Francisco is also in discussions with its neighbor Berkeley to consider adopting a program similar to Berkeley’s innovative Sustainable Energy Financing District to offset the entire cost of the solar installation. Eventually, Newsom sees the program being expanded to other clean energy technologies, such as wind.

A key component of the GoSolarSF rebate program is a green collar job-training program designed to provide high quality jobs to the city’s underserved communities. In order to participate in the rebate, 16 solar installers have committed to hiring graduates of the city’s workforce development program. Already 8 workers have been hired to date and that number is expected to triple by next month. In a recent post to the Huffington Post, Mayor Newsom wrote: “San Francisco is creating and promoting green jobs, so we can ensure that the neighborhoods that were locked out of the pollution-based economy are locked in to the new green economy.”

At the Mayor’s press conference on September 30, he invited business owners to sign up for the free energy audits and solar assessments, with the prospect of joining the Mayor’s Solar Founders’ Circle. In the last week alone, the SF Department of the Environment has signed up 45 buildings for the program, a great start towards meeting the city’s climate goals.

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Justin Sternberg is the co-founder of Continuum Industries, based in San Francisco, CA.


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  • Adam Shake

    Thanks for this article. There is no reason we cant get on renewable energy. As an environmental freelance writer, I find it frustrating that we sit back and watch countries like Australia put together electrical grids based on things like wind, to set up Electric Vehicle recharging stations.
    Thanks for the article, and keep up the good work.