Skies darken for solar rebate plan

A city proposal to provide $3 million to help private companies and homeowners meet the costs of solar panel installations stalled at the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday on concerns that The City’s legislators should have originally approved the funding, which will be taken out of a solar power project on a municipal building.

In January, Mayor Gavin Newsom submitted a ballot measure for the June 2008 election that would have created a solar power rebate program to help subsidize installation costs.

In March, he withdrew the measure, and said the rebates would be funded through $3 million of money from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance committee considered a resolution by Supervisor Jake McGoldrick to put the program on hold.

The Board of Supervisors should have been consulted about funding for the program, McGoldrick said during the meeting, adding that he wanted to “hit the pause button.”

No action was taken and the committee is scheduled to discuss the issue again in two weeks.

The program would have been funded from a fund for energy conservation and alternative energy projects set up in 2001, Barbara Hale, general manager of power at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, told supervisors. Nearly $10 million was allocated to the fund last year, she said.

The $3 million for the solar rebate program had been previously earmarked to pay for the installation of solar panels at Pier 96, according to Hale.

In February, the SFPUC released new bid documents that propose instead to lease space at Pier 96, where a private company would install solar panels and sell the solar energy back to The City.

A typical 2 kilowatt rooftop solar panel installation in San Francisco costs around $20,000 and provides the “lion’s share” of a household’s electricity needs, according to Greg Kennedy, who manages a solar installation company in The City. Federal and state rebates and tax credits slash $6,000 from that price, he said.

Kennedy said the incentive program, which would have cut another $3,000 to $5,000 from the price, would be a boon for the local solar industry.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said he believed McGoldrick was holding up the program unnecessarily and said that if the program went on the ballot he was certain voters would approve it.

jupton@examiner.com

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