S.F. supe: Solar panel plan pays for itself

Rooms could be lit, water could be heated and appliances could be powered next year in San Francisco homes utilizing energy from the sun at no extra cost to residents.

Under a plan raised recently, residents would repay the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to install solar panels on their roofs using money saved on future electricity bills. The program would be funded with bonds for renewable energy projects under a ballot initiative passed in 2001, said Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, who introduced the plan at a Board of Supervisors meeting.

“There’s no doubt in anyone’s minds that the systems pay for themselves over time,” Sandoval said at the board meeting, as he directed employees to draft legislation that would let The City pay upfront residential solar panel installation costs and to claim homes as security for payment, or liens, until the costs have been recovered.

According to the plan, residents would take out a loan for the installation of solar panels, but the energy saved from their electricity bills would go toward paying off the loan. Charges on their bill would be unchanged.

“I do not have solar panels on my roof,” Sandoval answered during an interview. “But I have looked into what it would cost me to get solar panels, and the cost ranges from between $20,000 and $40,000. A program like this would allow me to pay that off over 20 years.”

The liens and loans would be transferred to new owners when a home is sold, according to Sandoval, if the program is adopted.

The CEO of a Foster City-based company that last year installed solar panels on more than 30 homes in San Francisco said installation costs prevent the widespread adoption of residential solar energy systems.

“The suggested program is fantastic, and it’s what the industry needs,” SolarCity chief Lyndon Rive said.

Rooftop solar panels in The City can provide 60 percent to 100 percent of a house’s energy, according to Rive.

jupton@examiner.com

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