House Bill Promises Bright Future for San Antonio
Eric Washburn, mysanantonio.com Blogs
July 22, 2009
Imagine a solar financing mechanism that covers the up-front cost of installing energy efficiency improvements and a solar panel array on your home or business. Now, imagine a program that also provides this financing at no cost to local, state or federal governments.
In a time that many believe to be the tipping point of the solar industry, such a program can ease our transition in San Antonio to distributed renewable energy generation. Could such a program become a reality in San Antonio? Due to the efforts of Representative Mike Villareal, the Texas Legislature recently passed H.B. 1937, which allows municipalities to implement the bond-loan-property tax model. Villarreal and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson are already working to give the vision some shape.
Based on a financing model developed in Berkeley and already implemented in cities throughout California and Colorado, the CityFIRST program has entered the planning stages in San Antonio and is generating interest in two dozen other US cities.
The program allows municipal governments to sell bonds and use the proceeds to make a loan to a homeowner or business that can cover the up-front cost of energy efficiency improvements and/or a solar array. Property owners then pay back the loan through a voluntary line item on their property bills at a low fixed interest rate (in some cases, a zero percent interest rate) over a 20-year period. The loan is tied to the property, which means that payment is tied to the property itself if you move away. This configuration adds value to the property and is highly competitive against home equity lines of credit. Because the loan repayments are tied to the property, personal credit checks are also not a necessity. Taken with the benefits of energy efficiency and solar-- reducing energy bills and your own personal carbon footprint --such a program will provide a phenomenal opportunity to positively shape our quality of life and create green jobs in San Antonio.
This sort of finance mechanism is well-known to local governments and the bond market. The Leon Valley community used a similar program in the 1980's to provide low interest housing loans to citizens that were paid back through their ad valorem taxes.
Estimates indicate that a $280 billion dollar nationwide program of this type would reduce CO2 emissions by a gigaton with no additional cost to local, state or federal governments. Solar San Antonio is committed to working with the public and private sector to bring this program to San Antonio, as the CityFIRST initiative stands to provide the support for embracing the original nuclear power: the power of the sun.