Green

Solar moving south? Rebate plan falters in San Francisco as southern California gains massive project

UpdatedAn ambitious plan to double the rebate amount for residential solar panel installation in San Francisco, to $6,000 from $3,000, looks a little less certain to pass today with a surprise resolution introduced by San Francisco supervisor Jake McGoldrick to freeze the $3 million necessary for the program.

The idea behind the subsidy, called the Solar Incentive Rebate Program, is to increase solar in San Francisco from five to 55 megawatts in about 10 years time, meanwhile creating a valuable ecosystem of distributors, installers and manufacturers in the area. To hit 55MW of energy, some 15,000 rooftops would need to have solar installed, according to the mayor’s office.

The program is significant because San Francisco is considered one of California’s most progressive cities; and California itself is considered among the nation’s most green friendly states. Experiments here are closely watched.

By the end of today, though, the plan for subsidies may be off — at least until the June ballot, when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom will likely re-introduce it for a vote. However, the SIRP pales in comparison to another project announced today by Southern California Edison.

The SCE plan calls for an $875 million direct investment into blanketing solar panels atop unused commercial rooftops in three counties in the Los Angeles area, enough to generate 250 megawatts and power 162,000 homes. Installation will begin immediately, and take around five years, at the rate of one megawatt installed per week.

Why are these Southern California programs important? For starters, they tie solar into the existing grid, rather than throwing money at pie-in-the-sky projects out in the desert. And in southern counties like Riverside, known as a world center for shipping, there are plenty of warehouse rooftops to go around.

The Southern California programs also provide a local market for solar, and costs will come down over time as that market grows.

If San Francisco’s program is delayed or cancelled, it could put a dent in the outlook of companies that were counting on it, as well as making them wary of committing resources in the future. “Akeena Solar, SolarCity, Occidental Power — all of us have put marketing dollars into this, and hired and trained people to get ready,” the founder of Akeena, Barry Cinnamon, told me. “You can just imagine what would happen if the rug gets pulled out from under us. Those things aren’t cheap.”

It’s reminiscent of the much larger Federal renewable tax credit, which is also looking endangered. When political wrangling gets involved in credits that businesses have counted on to make their bottom line, it has a long-lasting effect, even if the credits are quickly renewed.

Update: Looks like the credit is really off for the moment, with the next chance for it to hit the ballot in November. However, the board is still working on the issue. (photo credit: MumbleyJoe, flickr)

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