Caldwell, responding to Frye’s staff, said the City “asked everyone who expressed an interest” to send out the City’s request for qualifications.
Calls to the City regarding the outcome of its request for qualifications, scheduled to close on February 27, were not returned. San Diego’s timetable requires the City to select by late March the companies that will be invited to submit detailed proposals for a solar-finance program.
The limited experience in Berkeley and Palm Desert in city-financed solar programs suggests they can be very popular.
Nils Moe, an assistant to Berkeley mayor Tom Bates, said his city’s pilot program filled its planned 40 slots on the first day of its offering. He noted that an attractive feature of the program is that homeowners who move, say, in seven years, pay for the photovoltaic system only during the years they occupy the home.
The Berkeley program requires only a $25 application fee, and the loan carries an 8 percent interest rate, which includes a 1 percent payment to the city for administration. The city is contracting with a third party start-up to provide the loans to homeowners.
Palm Desert’s financing program has attracted over 200 homes and businesses, according to Patrick Conlon, director of energy management.
Conlon said that his city, which he said played a key role in crafting AB 811, has financed the first two phases of the loan program itself but was seeking a third party for expanding the plan.
More than 30 cities, including San Diego, have contacted Palm Desert regarding its experience, Conlon said. The prime reason for seeking a third party to finance the program is that current regulations bar cities from selling tax-exempt bonds to finance private solar installations. Several members of California’s congressional delegation are supporting efforts to change that regulation.
“Tax-exempt municipal bonds are much more common and easier to sell [than taxable bonds],” said Conlon. “This is a key goal that will be able to take this program nationwide.”
But details are important to the success of these financing programs.
One Berkeley resident said he was enthusiastic about the program until he scrutinized its details.
“We went to a workshop and were told nothing would come out-of-pocket,” said Michael Grunwald, a longtime Berkeley resident.
But he noted that contractors who bid on a system for his home said some payment would be required when the solar panels were delivered. The city, however, wouldn’t provide reimbursement until the project was completed. Given possible rain delays in the Bay Area, Grunwald said it could potentially take months between panel delivery and a finished project.
Faced with the prospect of making payments and waiting for reimbursement, Grunwald said he reconsidered.
He added that he might also be able to finance the project himself at a lower rate of interest.
Nils Moe, the Berkeley mayor’s assistant, agreed that some homeowners could probably get a better rate on their own, but many others can’t, particularly in the current downturn.
“This is a good option for a number of people,” he said.
Apparently so. Berkeley launched its pilot program at 9:00 a.m. last November 5; by 9:10 a.m., all slots were filled.