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City’s solar program more than a year behind schedule

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Financing for rooftop solar panels tied to property taxes, a plan announced by Mayor Jerry Sanders in December 2008, is still in development.

The program is nearly a year behind schedule, due to procedural requirements outlined in the city’s charter, said Rachel Laing, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. A schedule for the ordinance puts its effective date at June 14.

The San Diego Clean Generation Program essentially sets up a special tax district that homeowners can voluntarily opt into. Inclusion in the district will allow homeowners to secure loans to purchase and install renewable energy technologies tied to their property tax bills. The idea is that a homeowner’s monthly energy bill savings will be greater than their payments under a 20-year financing schedule.

The average photovoltaic solar system in San Diego ranges between $32,000 and $50,000, said Jeremy Hutman, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program manager for the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE), which is expected to administer the program.

City Council must approve a contract allowing the nonprofit organization to manage the loan program. Renewable Funding LLC and The North American Bank are expected to provide financing. The program will be administered at no cost to the city.

The Clean Generation Program was the first of its kind announced for a major metropolitan city after the passage of AB 811, which established the statewide PACE program. The legislation allows local governments to secure lending partners and provide financing to property owners for installation of renewable-energy technologies

Cities throughout the state have begun implementing the program. Solana Beach recently became the first in the region to offer property tax financing for solar products, and Del Mar is also considering adoption of the program.

Loans secured by tax liens are very low risk, and thus homeowners should be able to secure low interest rates. The link to property taxes also reduces risk for homeowners by allowing the loan to be transferred if the home is sold. The new owner will continue making payments for the renewable energy technology located on the property.

The statewide program includes a variety of renewable energy technologies, including wind power. The Clean Generation program is even more widespread and may include energy efficiency mechanisms and other building retrofits, Hutman said. The program is still in the design phase and has not yet been finalized.

The city is still determining the class of license contractors must hold in order to install clean energy technologies under the program, Laing said.

It is important contractors be trained to safely work on the high voltages created by photovoltaic solar panels, said Karen Prescott, director of government relations for the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) San Diego chapter.

The organization has observed an increase in the number of week-long or weekend training programs, claiming to prepare students to install solar panels. It takes five years to obtain a C-10 license through NECA’s training program, Prescott said.

The Contractors State License Board currently permits contractors with a C-10 or C-46 license to install solar panels. The requirements have not yet been set, however, the city will likely defer to the state agency when establishing license requirements for contractors working under the Clean Generation program, Hutman said.

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