Thursday, June 12, 2008

SF Mayor: Solar Program As Early As July 1


As we reported this morning, after over 5 months of haggling, the San Francisco board of supervisors has finally passed what they say is the most aggressive municipal solar program in the nation: an annual budget of $3 million dollars each year for 10 years, doled out as rebates for home owners and businesses. We sat down with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom this morning to hear his thoughts on the plan, and he tells us that the program could be up and running as early as July 1st.

Newsom contends that all the project needs is his signature and the city will be on its way to becoming the American version of Berlin: a city that is a leader in solar, backed by aggressive incentives. If Berlin, which has half of the sunny days of San Francisco, can be a solar leader, San Francisco just needs these aggressive solar policies in place to motivate the private sector, says Newsom. OK, so San Francisco is notoriously late on these types of city-wide initiatives â€" held up by wading through bureaucracy â€" and we did just wait over 5 months after the city announced this plan in December, but it’s actually starting to look like this solar program is just around the corner.

The ultimate goal is for the city to reach 10,000 solar rooftops, from the relatively low level of 770. Once the incentives are in place Newsom says the decision by building owners to put solar on rooftops will be a “no-brainer.” An interesting part of the project, which should be noted, is that solar installations done after the original announcement in December 2007, can be rebated retroactively. So if this applies to you don’t forget to go collect!

The solar rooftop plan could partially help the city with its peaker plant problem â€" the city needs more power, but no one wants to build more dirty plants. Newsom said that the city’s solar rooftops could ultimately generate up to 50 MW, which is just a quarter of a power plant, but that any clean power helps.

These private rebates aren’t San Francisco’s only solar plans under way. Newsom tells us that the city is working on building bus stops with solar panels and small vertical wind turbines, as well as city garbage compacters embedded with solar panels. We also asked Newsom about the city’s potential plans with electric vehicle infrastructure company Project Better Place (which we reported here) and Newsom said the San Francisco Bay Area wants to be the first region to make a deal with Project Better Place. Now how much politicking would that take to get through the city’s board of supervisors?

Newsom wrapped up our chat by saying how he thinks the city’s solar plan is changing the game for local solar incentives in the U.S.: “we’ve broken a psychological barrier,” is how he put it. He said Berkeley’s plans for solar loans did a similar thing (and made San Francisco get competitive), though Berkeley hasn’t implemented its plan yet. He also pointed out that the steps taken on the local level are crucial for federal and state governments to follow. Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama need examples like ours that are creating green jobs, to get their green projects passed, Newsom pointed out. Well, first off we need to get this local plan up and running â€" we’ll see if the city has the forms waiting for us by July 1st.

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