Funding for solar burns out

A $9.5 million program that helped scores of businesses, residents and nonprofits install solar panels is being suspended because city funds have nearly dried up.

GoSolarSF was proposed in late 2007 by Mayor Gavin Newsom and approved by the Board of Supervisors in mid-2008 to encourage solar power use and to help foster a local industry.

The program’s funding, which comes from the sale of power generated at the Hetch Hetchy dam, quickly ballooned from $3 million to $9.5 million.

“The program has been incredibly successful,” said Jeanine Cotter, founder of local solar panel installer Luminalt Energy Corp. “We’ve grown as a result of it, and hired San Franciscans.”

Already, $8.7 million of the $9.5 million available has been reserved or handed out by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, prompting the agency to suspend GoSolarSF indefinitely for virtually all new applicants.

The program’s solar subsidies were previously available to anyone, but now only low-income residential applicants can qualify, according to utilities commission power official Barbara Hale. Those low-income applicants will continue to receive additional funds if they hire local installers.

To qualify as a low-income customer, a two-person household must earn less than $72,500 a year.</p>

“We’re having the kind of problem you love to have, which is that it’s a wildly popular program,” Hale said. “I think the funds will be exhausted before the fiscal year is out. We’re just trying to have an operating program for as long as we can.”

It’s unclear whether the program will be revived in the future.

“Our revenues in [the SFPUC Power Enterprise] aren’t growing, but our capital needs are,” Hale said. “We’ve burned through pretty much all of our surplus.”

GoSolarSF applications that are already approved are not affected by the announcement, and other would-be solar panel customers could still qualify for state subsidies and federal tax breaks.

 

Power of the sun

$9.5 million Subsidies available under GoSolarSF
$8.7 million Subsidies already provided or reserved
$600,000 Subsidies applied for but yet to be approved
$7,000 Basic subsidy still available for low-income applicants
$6,250 Additional subsidies available to some low-income applicants
700 Solar panel installations in The City in 2007
1,311 Solar panel installations currently in The City

Source: SFPUC

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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