Berkeley has long been an environmental innovator, and the city is again taking the lead with a plan to loan residents the money they need to go solar. Homeowners will be able to tack the annual loan payments onto their property tax bill.
The proposal eliminates the two major financial hurdles to installing solar electric and water heating systems-the five-figure price tag, and the risk that costs won't be recouped when the home is sold-by letting residents spread the cost over 20 years.
"This plan flips the conventional financing," says Dan Kammen, who heads the University of California, Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and helped the city put the plan together. "Right now if you go to buy solar for your roof you have to pay up front. That's like paying for 20 years of energy up front, and most people don't want to do that. How many of us would have a cell phone if we had to buy 20 years of minutes up front?"
A solar system for a smaller 1,500-square-foot home runs about $20,000, an amount even the most dedicated greenie may be reluctant to borrow from a bank. Berkeley's plan makes it easy and relatively cheap to go solar. Annual payments will be around $1,200 to $1,320 a year-about what residents pay for conventional electricity-and they're added to a bill property owners have to pay anyway. City number-crunchers say everyone wins.
"We've looked at a range of scenarios, and even in the worst case a homeowner would break even after 20 years," says Cisco DeVries, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates and the person behind the solar plan.
Berkeley will borrow the money needed to install the systems and plans to accommodate everyone who signs up when the program launches sometime...