According to Vice President Joe Biden, the solar financing plan that sprouted in Berkeley in 2007 will become a national model. The program, called Recovery Through Retrofit, creates a framework for cities, counties and states to set up tax districts that allow residential and business property owners to install solar panels and make other energy efficiency improvements. The investment will be paid off over a 20-year property tax assessment.
Since Berkeley adopted its financing plan, cities around the nation have adopted similar models, and California, New York, Texas and 11 other states have passed legislation making it easier for municipalities to create their own financing plans. The federal plan and those adopted in most other cities allow property owners to make other energy-efficiency upgrades as well, including installing new windows, insulation and weather stripping.
Berkeley’s plan aims to eliminate the up-front cost of solar installation and to attach the debt to the home and not to the property owner (the assessment stays with the property, not the person). Property owners pay no money up front but pay about $180 a month on their property tax bill, an amount that is offset by the energy saved from generating solar power. The plan, along with federal, state and utility rebates, allows property owners to nearly break even on their investment. According to the city’s energy department, of the 40 original Berkeley participants, 38 have completed or nearly completed solar panel installation.