sfpic SF Solar Victory – the largest municipal solar program in the US!
On July 1st, the San Francisco Solar Energy Incentive Program took effect! Passed by the SF Board of Supervisors, GoSolar SF is a visionary 10-year solar incentive program that will make $3 to $5 million a year available as incentives for homeowners and commercial businesses to install solar. This landmark program, one of the largest municipal solar programs in the country, demonstrates San Francisco’s commitment to tackling climate change and achieving energy independence in San Francisco

Program facts:
• For the 2008 year, $1.5 million dollars has been made available as incentives for homeowners to install solar.
• The program is retroactive and will cover solar installs from December 11, 2007 onwards.

GoSolar SF’s program’s history, brought to you by one of its principle architects: JP Ross.

The idea for the San Francisco program emerged from a Solar Task Force convened by City Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting. Ting recognized the need to increase solar energy usage in the City. San Francisco currently ranks last in the Bay Area for solar installed per capita, at 6.15 Watt/person. To put this into context, there are 51 Watts/person in Napa County. In addition, the average cost of installing a solar system in San Francisco is 7% higher than the average Bay Area cost because of difficult installation conditions, an arduous permitting process and higher installation costs associated with the racking needed for flat-roof installations. The Solar Task Force set out to speed the growth of solar installations in the city.

See the Solar Task Force’s proposal here.

Step 1: Tackling the permit process road block
One of the main barriers facing installers was the slow permitting process for solar systems. Solar contractors had actually stopped selling in SF because the permitting process was difficult and arbitrary. Contractors shared horror stories of getting stopped by arcane historic building ordinance with no relevance to the solar system in question. Through a series of meetings with the Department of Buildings and Inspections (DBI), the Solar Task Force came to agreement on an expedited and greatly simplified permitting program. Under the new program, solar permits for systems under 4 kW are now granted over the counter!

After the permitting victory, the Solar Task Force decided to tackle the bigger challenge of how to grow solar installations in San Francisco in view of the high cost of doing business in the City. The Task Force proposed an incentive program to bring down the initial investment cost needed for solar systems and to create a low interest loan program to help homeowners pay for their solar system.

Creating an incentive program is always a difficult task. The long-term benefits are weighed against the upfront costs and short-term needs often come out ahead in the scales. The campaign to get the SF solar program up and running was a series of challenges, setbacks, and coalition building. After countless meetings with various Supervisors, on December 11, 2007, the program was announced. It was a false victory as the Board of Supervisors had some questions about the incentive program and moved to cancel it. The day of the SF solar program seemed like it would never come….

Undaunted, the Solar Task Force, with its strong coalition of environmental groups, committed solar companies, and the support of Assessor Ting and Mayor Gavin Newsome’s office, campaigned for 6 months to restart the program. Supervisor Dufty took the reigns and sponsored the ordinance and the SF Task Force mobilized again to get it passed by a vote of 8-3 on June 10th, 2008. Thanks are due to Supervisors Alito-Pier, Ammiano, Chu, Elsbernd, Maxwell, Sandoval, and Markarimi for helping your city create a solid foundation for a sustainable future.

JP Ross, currently Sungevity’s VP of Strategic Relationships, began working on a more sustainable solar future for San Francisco back in 1999 while working at Greenpeace. He campaigned to pass Proposition B, a $100 million bond initiative to pay for the installation of solar panels, wind turbines and energy conservation technologies on City-owned property in San Francisco. In 2003, he joined Vote Solar and in early 2007, he joined the Solar Task Force. As Vote Solar’s Policy Director, JP worked tirelessly during the San Francisco campaign. Vote Solar, a non-profit organization with the mission of stopping global warming and increasing energy independence by bringing solar energy into the mainstream, was critical to the development of the San Francisco Solar Energy Incentive Program. Here at Sungevity, we salute this great work and look forward to working with San Franciscan homeowners as they move forward and go solar.

Learn more by clicking here.

Posted by Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy co-founded Sungevity and now serves as strategic advisor. He is an internationally recognized opinion leader on climate and energy issues. He is the author of Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy - and Planet - from Dirty Energy (2012), a book that has been described as the clean energy manifesto for the next greatest generation.


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  2. Hello. Great job. I did not expect this on a Wednesday. This is a great story. Thanks!

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