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Individuals can receive up to $6,000 under the new grant program, amounting to one big green tax cut for the citizens of San Francisco.  (Source: Elsa Wenzel/CNET)

The current solar power installations in San Francisco are pictured; expect a lot more dots coming soon.  (Source: San Francisco Solar Map)
San Francisco is looking to get off the grid and save money with a vast solar push

Independent solar power efforts are growing rapidly.  With a number of businesses providing unique, online-coordinated installation options, individuals and small businesses are adopting the technology.  And part of the new rate of adoption is thanks to local government grants. 

Many cities and states give citizens large grants to bear some of the capital brunt of buying solar panels.  These grants are in essence a big tax break as the consumer will typically make a good deal of money of the solar panels in their lifetime.  They are the alternative energy version of the business world's small business grants.

This Tuesday, San Francisco looked to keep the good times rolling and put some green back its citizens' pockets with the approval of a massive new grant campaign.  Solar panel manufacturers and installers received the news with giddy anticipation and are preparing for the new boom.

For the next ten years, citizens can get $3,000 to $6,000 in a one-time grant to install panels.  Both businesses and charities are also receiving some solar love.  Businesses and nonprofits can get $10,000 grants, while nonprofit affordable housing can get up to a whopping $30,000.  Mayor Gavin Newsom states, "This rebate program further establishes San Francisco as America's solar energy leader and symbolizes the commitment of the city to make affordable solar power available to those who want it."

The mayor says the program should launch this July and will only cost the city $3 million yearly.  He says the benefits are far reaching and go beyond just putting money back in the hands of consumers and businesses in energy cost savings.  Newsom says the program will attract businesses and will grow green jobs.

If San Francisco can really pull of the green transformation it will be a significant accomplishment.  In the green-savvy California, San Francisco has traditionally been somewhat of a laughing stock of the alternative energy community.  The city was ranked last in the Bay Area by a recent assessment by the San Francisco Solar Task Force.  Of the city's 195,000 rooftops, only 744 had solar panels, less than 1 percent.

The mayor hopes that the new efforts will panel nearly 10,000 rooftops over the decade, or roughly 5 percent of the city's rooftops.  If successful, this would produce around 50 MW of power.

Lyndon Rive, CEO of installer SolarCity, whom DailyTech recently reported on, is thrilled by the effort.  He anticipates the number of panels tripling and as the city's largest solar installer; he's in prime position for success.  With 40 current employees his company is expanding with a "green" job training initiative in a low-income part of the city.  Rive complements the new program stating, "It's simple, easy to understand, and easy to implement."

While his company offered solar leasing, he acknowledges that this strategy was not as cost effective and that most citizens couldn't afford it.  Now between city, state, and federal tax credits, rebates, and grants, an average consumer who would have paid $30,000 for panels can pay a mere $6,000.  Kevin Gage, sales director for San Diego-based installer Borrego Solar states, "This is just gonna spur the industry.  The market was essentially shut down in San Francisco. Now a lot of companies like ours are gonna move into San Francisco."

Ironically the approval was announced the same day San Francisco utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced a 6.5 percent electricity rate hiking on surging fossil fuel costs.  San Franciscan Sylvia Ventura is excited about the relief the move may provide her fellow citizens, but she's a bit fearful that the myriad of installers will confuse them.  She states, "This business was done for a long time in the shadows and some installers took advantage of people being intimidated by the data, not understanding metering, wattage, and what to pay."

She and her husband Dan Barahona launched a new effort, One Block Off The Grid, which aims to use collective bargaining and other subsidies to further reduce the cost of the panels to an attractive price of "free".  She says that the first 50 homeowners that sign up for the program will receive panels free of cost, thanks to the effort's clever negotiating.  However, corporate partners are still in the process of being secured and the list is currently only half full.

Whether the new grant program is a glowing success or just a modest one, at the end of the day its putting money back in the hands of the hardworking tax payer.  With rising energy and food costs, the consumer in San Francisco will finally get to see some light.

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RE: Hmm
By arazok on 6/12/2008 11:28:08 AM , Rating: 4
I wonder how long it will be before the city raises property taxes to make up for the lost revenue going into these subsidies.

The more successful it is, the higher the tax increases will have to be. So it's not really a subsidy, it's a tax hike in exchange for a solar panel on your roof.

RE: Hmm
By BansheeX on 6/12/2008 11:35:28 AM , Rating: 2
You win. The money has to come from somewhere. Where are they getting it? The people via taxes, some of which has to go to the salaries of the government officials coordinating it. In which case, wouldn't it just be better to have not taken it in the first place?

Dee dee dee, da govarnment is hewping me!

RE: Hmm
By Master Kenobi on 6/12/2008 11:37:15 AM , Rating: 1
The more successful it is, the higher the tax increases will have to be. So it's not really a subsidy, it's a tax hike in exchange for a solar panel on your roof.

You nailed it. This also doesn't account for the problem of lifespan on these things. What to do with all the old damaged solar panels.

RE: Hmm
By dblind1 on 6/12/2008 12:20:32 PM , Rating: 2
You nailed it. This also doesn't account for the problem of lifespan on these things. What to do with all the old damaged solar panels.

Actually I'm sure most of these will be made out of Aluminum frames and some silicon base PV Cells at least now. Most are rated to produce 90% of rated power at 10 year mark and 80% at the 25 year mark. I'm sure their will be a recycling program for them. Also, newer more efficient solar tech is coming out. I remember reading about a 40% efficient solar panel (vs about 18% in current mass production panels) on DT not long ago. Since our recent tech is focused more on efficiency, that should mean fewer solar panels in the near future.

After all, people are having to throw away a roof full of shingles every 20 years .. why not just make them photo-voltaic shingles .. no more added waste .. and they could probably be recycled. The government could even give you another rebate for recycling them later. *evil grin*

RE: Hmm
By FITCamaro on 6/12/2008 2:16:21 PM , Rating: 2
You win a cookie. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.*

*Not responsible for loss or damage in transit.

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