BERKELEY — Spots in a new Berkeley program that allows homeowners to install solar systems without any money upfront went faster than tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert.
If ever there was an indicator in this green city that people are looking for environmentally friendly alternatives for electricity and heating water, it happened the morning after the presidential election.
Nine minutes after the city opened its' online application process for a first-of-its-kind program to help property owners with the cost of solar installation by tacking the cost onto their property-tax bills during a 20-year period, 40 applications were received.
"It's was 9 o'clock in the morning, and boom, nine minutes later 40 had been submitted,'' said Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates.
The properties selected were the first five applicants in each of Berkeley's eight City Council districts.
On Thursday, an Oakland startup called Renewable Funding, the financial services firm contracted by the city to administer and finance the program, notified the applicants that have been selected for the pilot program, which will cost about $1.5 million.
"People in Berkeley are ready to use this innovative financing program and take action to reduce their energy use and carbon footprint," Bates said. "(The program called) Berkeley FIRST will be a model for cities around the world who are eagerly waiting to replicate this program."
Systems will run about $28,000 with homeowners paying about $182 monthly on their property tax bills. Property owners could recoup some of the money from savings on their monthly energy bills, city officials said.
The interest rate may vary and will definitely be competitive, city officials said. "We can't guarantee it will be lower, but people could access the financing without a credit check or other hoops to jump through," Sinai said. "The only clearance is a title check and property tax payments.
In September, the council approved the Special Tax Financing District, which will allow installations because Berkeley would pay all the upfront costs by borrowing a lump sum of money.
The plan was crafted about 18 month ago by Cisco DeVries, Bates' chief of staff for five years, after more than 80 percent of voters in November 2006 approved Measure G, making Berkeley the first city in the nation to ask everyone who lives or works in Berkeley to do their part to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050.
DeVries left City Hall in the spring to spend more time with his family and do some consulting work but recently landed a job as the managing director of Renewable Funding. He is working with other cities that are interested in following Berkeley's lead, he said.
He said Thursday that he has talked to at least 50 cities about the solar program. Since its inception, Berkeley officials have received queries from Hawaii to Massachusetts as well as from Europe and Asia. Interest among property owners is also high. More than 300 homeowners attended a workshop about the program last month, Sinai said.
"I was not surprised that the program was popular," DeVries said. "I knew there was a lot of energy around it. But obviously when you have something new, especially in this economic climate, you wonder how people are going to respond. Nine minutes, that was a surprise. There is no question."
If the pilot program goes well, more people could sign on soon. Deputy City Manager Christine Daniel said there are about 4,000 homes in Berkeley that could benefit from having solar systems on their rooftops.
For more information, call Gail Feldman, the city's sustainable energy programs manager at 510-981-7494 or visit the city of Berkeley's FIRST Program Web site: www.cityofberkeley.info/sustainable. The Berkeley FIRST application Web site is www.berkeleyfirst.renewfund.com.