Berkeley Program Offers New Option for Financing Residential PV Systems

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Readily accessible credit has often been cited as a necessary ingredient to open up the market for residential photovoltaic (PV) systems. Though financing does not reduce the high up-front cost of PV, by spreading that cost over some portion of the system's life, financing can certainly make PV systems more affordable. As a result, a number of states have, in the past, set up special residential loan programs targeting the installation of renewable energy systems and/or energy-efficiency improvements and often featuring low interest rates, longer terms and no-hassle application requirements. Historically, these loan programs have had mixed success (particularly for ... continued below

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Bolinger, Mark A July 6, 2008.

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Readily accessible credit has often been cited as a necessary ingredient to open up the market for residential photovoltaic (PV) systems. Though financing does not reduce the high up-front cost of PV, by spreading that cost over some portion of the system's life, financing can certainly make PV systems more affordable. As a result, a number of states have, in the past, set up special residential loan programs targeting the installation of renewable energy systems and/or energy-efficiency improvements and often featuring low interest rates, longer terms and no-hassle application requirements. Historically, these loan programs have had mixed success (particularly for PV), for a variety of reasons, including a historical lack of homeowner interest in PV, a lack of program awareness, a reduced appeal in a low-interest-rate environment, and a tendency for early PV adopters to be wealthy and not in need of financing. Some of these barriers have begun to fade. Most notably, homeowner interest in PV has grown in some states, particularly those that offer solar rebates. The passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), however, introduced one additional roadblock to the success of low-interest PV loan programs: a residential solar investment tax credit (ITC), subject to the Federal government's 'anti-double-dipping' rules. Specifically, the residential solar ITC--equal to 30% of the system's tax basis, capped at $2000--will be reduced or offset if the system also benefits from what is known as 'subsidized energy financing', which is likely to include most government-sponsored low-interest loan programs. Within this context, it has been interesting to note the recent flurry of announcements from a number of U.S cities concerning a new type of PV financing program. Led by the city of Berkeley, Calif., these cities propose to offer their residents the ability to finance the installation of a PV system using increased property tax assessments, rather than a more-traditional credit vehicle, to recover both system and administrative costs. This approach has a number of features that should appeal to PV owners, including long-term, fixed-cost, attractive financing; loans that are tied to the tax capacity of the property rather than to the owner's credit standing; a repayment obligation that transfers along with the sale of the property; and a potential ability to deduct the repayment obligation from federal taxable income as part of the local property tax deduction. For these reasons, Berkeley's program, which was first announced on October 23, 2007, has received considerable nationwide attention in both the trade and general press. Since the announcement, cities from throughout California and the broader U.S. have expressed keen interest in the possibility of replicating this type of program. In California alone, the cities of Santa Cruz, Santa Monica and Palm Desert are all reportedly considering similar programs, while the city of San Francisco has recently announced its own program, portions of which closely parallel Berkeley's approach. In addition, a bill (AB 811) that would authorize all cities in California, not just charter cities like Berkeley, to create this type of program was approved by the California General Assembly on January 29 and is currently under consideration in the State Senate. A similar bill in Colorado (HB 1350) was signed into law on May 28. Elsewhere, the city of Tucson, Arizona has also considered this financing approach.

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  • Journal Name: Solar Industry; Journal Volume: 1; Journal Issue: 6; Related Information: Journal Publication Date: July 2008

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  • Report No.: LBNL-1986E
  • Grant Number: DE-AC02-05CH11231
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 962215
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc927367

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  • July 6, 2008

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Nov. 13, 2016, 7:26 p.m.

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  • Jan. 4, 2017, 4:57 p.m.

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Bolinger, Mark A. Berkeley Program Offers New Option for Financing Residential PV Systems, article, July 6, 2008; Berkeley, California. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc927367/: accessed November 14, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.