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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: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By FITCamaro on 6/12/2008 1:57:29 PM , Rating: 1
First I'll say I see no problem with putting solar panels on a house or business to cut electricity costs. If you live in an area with almost constant sunlight year round, why not.

However having the government subsidize it? No. Because then you're shifting the burden to the tax payers, including those who don't have solar panels or want them.

I would love to know how San Francisco, a city in a state who's budget is a few billion dollars in the hole, is going to pay for this. Instead they need to build more power plants. Nuclear ones which aren't tied to the cost of fossil fuel. I'm sure they'd scream and bitch before and while it was being built. But once it was online and they saw how it was providing them with power generated at an average cost of 2 cents/kW, they'd shut up.

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By Wolfpup on 6/12/2008 2:10:58 PM , Rating: 2
A few million a year is probably a drop in the bucket for a city that size. While it's not fair that everyone most likely won't be able to take advantage of the program (at least at first), the public at large WILL be getting many benefits from it, from less air pollution to possibly cheaper energy prices, and I'm sure things I haven't thought of.

At any rate, our government subsides OIL now-so what's wrong with subsidizing something we should actually be moving to?

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By FITCamaro on 6/12/2008 2:14:05 PM , Rating: 3
We wouldn't need to subsidize oil if we pumped our own. Who's stopping that again.....oh right people like those who live in San Francisco.

And this will do nothing to cut air pollution since California doesn't have enough electricity as it is. The local power plant will still continue to operate at its maximum output.

In reality, this will only help the fairly wealthy. Because the average person can't afford a solar system even with a $6,000 subsidy. You're still looking at $10,000-20,000 out of pocket.

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By smitty3268 on 6/12/08, Rating: 0
By Reclaimer77 on 6/12/2008 3:39:47 PM , Rating: 3
To be fair, the people living in San Francisco aren't the typical American family.

Yeah they sure aren't...

By Spuke on 6/12/2008 3:42:53 PM , Rating: 2
Their money is being spent on the high cost of living. Their disposable incomes are pretty low. When you have two people living together (not a couple...roommates) that make $100k each and can't afford their own houses that's a HIGH cost of living.

By Wolfpup on 6/16/2008 10:23:40 AM , Rating: 2
"Pumped our own"? Are you serious? Don't you know we do that? Don't you know we've already used up most of ours?

Our country was one of the first to really exploit our oil resources, and the halfway point on that (I can't remember the technical term off hand) was in 1971 if I'm remembering correctly. Early 70's at any rate.

And what evidence do you have that California doesn't have enough electricity? You realize those "rolling blackouts" were a scam, right? Even if they don't, I don't see how adding to the power supply is going to hurt.

And yeah, this probably only will help the fairly wealthy directly, although we'll all benefit indirectly.

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By Ringold on 6/12/2008 5:58:32 PM , Rating: 2
At any rate, our government subsides OIL now-so what's wrong with subsidizing something we should actually be moving to?

Look up, from the source, oil industry firm tax rates.

Then consider the standard corporate tax rate is supposed to be 35%. (Might want to consider also that most weasel their way down to average of 25-30%)

Then prove your the above statement with data from credible sources.

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By sinful on 6/12/2008 7:34:21 PM , Rating: 1
Then prove your the above statement with data from credible sources.

"The new Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives has voted to reverse one of President George Bush's key awards to the oil industry.

The bill would remove billions of dollars in subsidies to US oil firms. "

$14 Billion, as a matter of fact.
How much green energy would $14 Billion buy us?

Secondly, the point about corporate tax rates is meaningless.
The actual tax amount per gallon of gas is pretty minimal....
So what's your point?
Just whining that the 'poor' oil industry is taxed?

Guess what, I get taxed too!

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By Ringold on 6/12/2008 8:01:00 PM , Rating: 2
You cited a news website.

What university did you go to that accepted a news website as a primary source, particularly a source that openly admits its left-wing bias?

Even worse, you were quoting a source that was quoting politicians souped-up numbers. I had a friend who has friend that knows somebody that thinks the Moon is made of cheese, too.

Secondly, the point about corporate tax rates is meaningless.

The total rate they pay at the end of the day is all that matters. If after accounting for "breaks" and penalties they pay more or less than other industries seems relevant when people (apparently like you) claim that they get some sort of unfair break or subsidy -- supposedly relative to others.

Try again.

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By masher2 on 6/12/2008 10:02:34 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, the myth of "unfair tax breaks" for oil companies again surfaces:
the table below shows that Exxon paid or remitted $20 billion in various sales taxes, excise taxes, severance taxes, and property taxes. This brings the total amount of taxes the company paid or remitted to $29.3 billion, nearly three times the net profits it earned for shareholders.

The financial statements of two other large U.S.-based oil companies, ConocoPhillips and ChevronTexaco, show similar large tax payments. Indeed, these three companies paid or remitted a combined $47.8 billion in taxes in the first quarter of 2008, nearly $28 billion more than they earned in net profits ...

Oil companies as a whole pay more taxes than the bottom 75% of all US taxpayers combined.

By Keeir on 6/13/2008 12:56:22 AM , Rating: 2
And lets not forget. The people who really pay the oil company taxes are the consumers of gasoline.

ALL companies want to make a reasonable rate of return on capital invested. Although Oil companies are making huge sums of money, they also have huge sums invested in infrastructure AND huge operating expenses.

No matter the tax rate on oil companies, an oil company is still going to use pricing to establish a 10-20% return on capital. If we pass new taxes on oil companies, the price of gasoline will rise overnight everywhere such that nearly 100% of the tax is now paid by an increased price. Yay for punishing the big bad companies!n

By Wolfpup on 6/16/2008 10:17:31 AM , Rating: 3
You're quoting from a "we don't want to pay taxes" web site? Really?

You honestly think they're paying what they owe, and that they're not given breaks? Well, I guess a pro-corporate anti-tax web site said so, so it must be true ;)

RE: The right idea ... now for other cities ...
By Doormat on 6/12/2008 2:39:07 PM , Rating: 5
Just to point out, the benefit to the taxpayers who don't get the panels is cheaper electricity and fewer (or none) rolling blackouts.

The solar panels will generate energy at the peak of the day, and reduce the peak demand. As peak demand goes down, so do the prices of peak energy. In California, the market has a price limit of $400/MWh (last time I checked). So when the market value of the electricity goes higher, Cali has to deal with rolling blackouts.

By reducing peak demand, California can
1) Not buy as much expensive (peak time) energy, keeping utility costs lower that they otherwise would be.
2) Help keep the price under $400/MWh by reducing demand, which will help reduce or eliminate rolling blackouts.

This is why I'm a big solar proponent. By engaging in "peak shaving" by going Solar, the time for return on investment is shorter than you might otherwise think, because you're generating the most expensive power possible. At 40c/kWh during the summer and 10c/kWh during the other 9 months, a solar power system can pay for itself in 15 years (assumptions: $7/W cost, 275 sunny days/yr, 10 hrs/day).

My question is why is SF doing it. It'd be much better suited for Southern California than NorCal.

By Ringold on 6/12/2008 6:03:31 PM , Rating: 2
Did SF bother to do analysis to see if the net savings to the average resident would outweigh the cost, or did they just jump in to it?

From the article it sounds like they did half of it, but often full-blown cost-benefit analysis gets skipped.

It just sounds to me like the amount of energy SF hopes to generate, probably at high noon on an absolutely perfect day, is such a tiny drop on the bucket that I'd be surprised if it actually put a significant dent in demand.

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