Supervisors expected to grill SolarCity CEO

The state’s largest solar panel installer’s abandoned pledge to provide job training in the Bayview district after receiving taxpayer handouts is expected to come under fire at City Hall Thursday.

Foster City-based SolarCity was among the companies that feverishly lobbied San Francisco supervisors last year to approve Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed GoSolarSF pilot program.

Newsom proposed the $3 million program in late 2007 to provide cash assistance so residents and businesses could meet solar panel installation costs. State and federal governments also provided assistance.

To build community support for Newsom’s plan, SolarCity pledged to build a training academy in the low-income Bayview that was intended to train at least 30 people every two months as installers. Despite millions flowing from city coffers into the solar panel installation industry  — with much of the business going to SolarCity — the company has failed to open the academy.

CEO Lyndon Rive talked tough to supervisors in previous hearings, and some of them are expected to grill him today about his company’s failure to follow through.

“We need to build out a training academy,” Rive said during an April 2008 Budget and Finance Committee hearing. “I leave it up to the Board of Supervisors to determine where you would like to see the training academy. You have a choice of Bayview-Hunters Point or San Jose. It will depend on the outcome of you approving this pilot [program].”

In an August interview with The Examiner about the abandoned academy proposal, Rive blamed economic conditions for hampering company expansion plans and dampening its need for workers.

During this week’s Rules Committee hearing, requested by Supervisor Chris Daly, Rive will outline new efforts to provide a “training program” in the neighborhood, spokesman Jonathan Bass said.

Sierra Club spokesman and City College of San Francisco Trustee John Rizzo said SolarCity should fund a professionally run, green-collar training program.

“We [CCSF] have already got some programs in place,” he said.


Homeowners’ panels OK’d

Homeowners whose dreams of energy independence were interrupted when Upper Haight neighbors filed an appeal against their rooftop solar panels can finally flip the switch on the $90,000 array.

After a 90-minute meeting during which more than a dozen neighbors spoke, the San Francisco Board of Appeals unanimously rejected the claim Wednesday, saying it did not want to set a precedent of discouraging solar panel installations.

Douglas Kitt and his wife saved for four years to afford the panels, which were installed two months ago but could not be connected to the grid because of an appeal of their electrical permit, filed by neighbors Maureen Gannon and Rohit Verma.

Gannon and Verma argued that the tilted panels, which interfere with their view, were out of the Upper Haight neighborhood’s character. Other neighbors were split.

Board Commissioner Rafael Mandelman said that while he typically appreciates aesthetic arguments, he was hesitant to accommodate that argument in this case because alternative energy is so crucial to combat global warming.

— John Upton, Katie Worth


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