Berkeley encourages residents to go solar

BERKELEY, CA (KGO) -- A unanimous vote in Berkeley on Tuesday night lights the way for that city to be the first in the nation to make solar panels affordable. The mayor says San Francisco, San Jose, even cities as far away as Annapolis, Maryland are interested in following Berkeley's lead.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates believes the sun will shine down on his city's plan to make solar panels affordable for its residents.

"This is going to go like wildfire. Other cities are going to pick it up," said Mayor Tom Bates.

The creation of a tax assessment district lays the ground work for residents to finance their solar system through a yearly assessment attached to their property tax bill. Milt Latta paid about $10,000 out of his own pocket, for his solar panels.

"If it had been finance by the city, and I could have amortized it over a longer period of time, there would be some savings," said Milt Latta, a Berkeley resident.

The city says a solar system for a 2,500 foot home will cost $22,569. At 6.75 percent over 20 years, the cost is $182 a month. However, Severin Borenstein, a solar expert at U.C.'s Energy Institute says it's not worth it because most Berkeley residents don't spend $182 on electricity each month.

"My PG&E bill runs approximately $150 a month," said Gladys Gray, a Berkeley resident with a household of three.

"I live with three other people. There are four of us and we're charged about $160 a month," said Igor Tregub, a Berkeley resident.

Still Mayor Bates says solar panel owners will be paying a flat fee, while others will be at the mercy of PG&E rate hikes.

"We know for a fact that electricity is going to go up. PG&E has already indicated they're going to raise rates 15 percent over the next three years, but you've got a flat situation," said Mayor Tom Bates.

"It really makes sense if you're planning to stay in your house, I'd say 10 years. If it's less than that, you're not going to get the savings, you'll pass it on to whoever buys the house," said Milt Latta, a Berkeley resident.

And if you sell your home, the new owner must take over the payments. The establishment of a tax assessment district means Berkeley will begin financing solar panels for its residents by November.

The cutting-edge program will start with 50 homes and eventually more than $80 million in loans will be available for Berkeley residents to go solar.

Check out the Berkeley FIRST calculatorwhich can help you understand the financial implications of this program for your household: