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Solana Beach looks to help residents go solar

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Berkeley and Palm Desert are two California cities that have implemented a program to help property owners finance solar panel installation.

Solana Beach looks to be the third to do so, as the city is working to execute its own solar financing program.

The Solana Beach Financing District is a mechanism designed to remove the high upfront cost of installing solar panels by allowing property owners to spread the cost on their annual property tax over a 20-year period. The city will encumber no liability and no funding.

Lesa Heeber, Solana Beach councilwoman, stated, "the high upfront cost" is why "property owners who want solar energy don't get solar panels."

Currently, the program is in its developmental stage. Last month, the city released a RFP requesting assistance from a consultant to develop, administer, market and finance a program. The deadline to submit a proposal is March 13.

Those who want to apply need to include three things: a comprehensive plan to administer the program, process applications and handle customer service; a financing package that includes an agreement to purchase and/or remarket the bonds in the secondary market at no risk to the city; and assistance as necessary in the formation and implementation of the financing district and program.

The next step will be to review all the applicants and choose one to help city staff with the formation of the program.

Sometime in April, the City Council will give the final approval, according to Wendy Protzman, deputy city manager for Solana Beach.

After this, the actual program development will take place, including regulations and financing rules.

"If everything goes according to plan," Protzman said, "we should see this pilot program get under way at the end of 2009 or early 2010."

The consultant selected by Solana Beach will issue long-term bonds to be repaid by property owners, according to Protzman. The cost of solar panels, which typically run about $25,000 to $60,000 per parcel, will be recorded in a lien that is transferable to a new owner.

About 3,900 homes and 1,200 businesses would be eligible in the city of 13,500 residents.

This type of program is a relatively new concept and originates in the Bay Area.

Berkeley launched its pilot program in October where 40 slots were made available and they were taken up in nine minutes, according Neal De Snoo, energy program officer for the city of Berkeley.

Their program secured $1.5 million in bond money to start the program, which works the same way Solana Beach is proposing by allowing property owners to foot the bill on their property tax.

"The first check went out last Friday," De Snoo said. "It was for $23,000."

Palm Desert also followed in Berkeley's footsteps. They heard of this program and implemented their own in August, after securing over $5 million in bond money.

These cities are part of a growing number of local governments trying to take advantage of Assembly Bill 811, a state solar law passed in July 2008 that authorizes cities and counties to establish the long-term payment plans.

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