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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions > Solar Energy

Berkeley Crafts a City-backed Property Tax Plan for Solar Installations

Property tax payments have been approved as a financing plan for home solar systems in the city of Berkeley. This could become a national model.

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The City of Berkeley has approved a new financing program for loans to homeowners who install rooftop solar panels. The Berkeley plan will finance city-backed solar loans through a small addition to the property taxes of each participating home, eliminating the need to find up-front cash to install panels that can cost an average of $30,000.

Using property taxes to repay the solar loan also would ensure that home values rise to reflect the addition of energy-efficient technology. If a home sells before its solar loan is fully repaid, its new owner would take over the loan repayments – as well as the electricity savings. City officials are expected to begin with 50 homeowners and expand their solar program over time.

The city council approved the scheme in mid-September, 2008. The next step for Berkeley is to line up a source of capital to begin offering the loans, which are expected to have a 20-year life and be repaid by a $180 monthly property tax increase.

"It's made renewables and efficiency go from something that's a good idea, but you're paying for it … to you paying over time and getting rewarded with added property value," Daniel Kammen, a professor in the energy and resources group at the University of California in Berkeley, said.

Kammen has helped the city develop the unique solar financing, which he described as a major boost to California's target of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. He is also a senior environmental aide to Barack Obama, making the Berkeley loan program a potential model for future clean energy policy on a nationwide scale.

One roadblock to expansion of the solar loans across America may be the shaky financial health of some US cities. Berkeley has a strong enough credit rating to issue municipal bonds to finance the initial cost of the programme, Kammen said.

Several US states, including New York and Connecticut, also offer interest rate reductions for solar-panel installation loans through government-sponsored entities. The Berkeley system aims to make that capital easier to tap into and repay.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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