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Mayor's Office
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Berkeley FIRST Frequently Asked Questions

(Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology)

In November 2007, the Berkeley City Council approved a proposal by Mayor Bates to make Berkeley the the first city in the nation to allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements and solar system installation as a voluntary long-term assessment on their individual property tax bill.

 Mayor Bates at Sunpower


PLEASE NOTE: This information is provided to help answer common questions about the Berkeley FIRST program. Program details and timelines are still in development and therefore the information contained in here is subject to modification at any time. The ultimate details of the program will not be fully known until it is pilot tested.

How does this program work?

Berkeley FIRST is a program in development by the City of Berkeley.  It is being designed to allow property owners (residential and commercial) to install electric and thermal solar systems and make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and pay for the cost over 20 –years through an annual special tax on their property tax bills.  No property owner would pay the special tax unless they had work done on their property as part of the program.  Those who do have work done on their property would pay only for the cost of their project (including interest) and fees to administer the program.  Individual property owners would contract directly with qualified private solar installers and contractors for energy efficiency and solar projects on their building.  The City would provide the funding for the project from a bond or loan fund that it repays through assessments on participating property owners’ tax bills for 20 years.

What are the advantages of Berkeley FIRST?

While Berkeley FIRST may not be the best option for all property owners, the program is being designed to address many of the financial hurdles that are dissuading some people from undertaking major energy projects.  First, there would be little upfront cost to the property owner.  Second, the upfront capital costs would be repaid through a voluntary tax on the property, thereby avoiding any direct effect on the property owner's credit.  Third, the total cost of the solar energy system and energy improvements should be comparable to financing through a traditional equity line or mortgage refinancing because the well-secured bond will provide lower interest rates than are commercially available.  Fourth, the obligation to pay the tax transfers with the property.  Therefore, if you sell your property prior to the end of the 20-year repayment period, the next owner takes over repayment as part of their property tax bill. 

If I participate, can I still get all the tax deductions, credits, and rebates available?

Program participants will be required to apply to the California Solar Initiative rebate program. We are still examining the details of participants’ eligibility for the federal tax credit.   In addition, we are examining what portions of the assessment will be deductible on your federal and state income taxes.  Each participant will need to consult an accountant or the IRS to determine their personal income tax deductions.

Will you include energy efficiency in Berkeley FIRST?

The cheapest and easiest way to reduce your energy bill is to improve the efficiency of your property.  Our goal is to allow property owners to do major energy efficiency projects as part of Berkeley FIRST, though funding for energy efficiency upgrades will likely not be available in the pilot phase of the project. 

What is the timeline for launching Berkeley FIRST?

We plan to launch a pilot phase of Berkeley FIRST in October 2008.  This smaller scale test will allow the City to iron out any issues before we expand it.  Assuming all goes well, and funding continues to be available at reasonable cost, the program would be expanded.

Are there limits to the number of people who can participate?

We do plan to limit the pilot phase to test the program.  No final determination has been made on the appropriate scale of the full program.

Should I wait for this program to install solar?

No.  State rebates will likely be reduced before the launch of this program. If you were planning on going solar already, please do not wait for Berkeley FIRST.

I am a property owner and would like to participate.  Where do I sign up?

Please click here to sign up for the city's mailing list. (www.CityofBerkeley.info/Sustainable)

I am a solar installer or contractor and would like to participate.  What is the process?

There is no wait list or sign-up for installers at this time. Please subscribe to our mailing list for updates as the program is developed.    There will be workshops on the program hosted by the City.

I don’t live in Berkeley, can my city do this too?

Under current law, a California city must be a “charter city” to implement a program like Berkeley FIRST.  All cities in California are either a general law city or a charter city. As a charter city, the City has power over municipal affairs when the subject matter has not been preempted by State law. In California, 108 out of 478 cities are charter cities.   Legislation (AB 1709 - Hancock) has cleared the State Assembly and Senate to amend State law to allow all cities to create this program.  Berkeley has committed to create a replication guide for other cities after our pilot phase is completed.

(Updated September 18, 2008)


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