Wednesday, December 12, 2007

San Francisco's Bright Idea

We all got a chuckle (for different reasons, depending on your political bent) out of George W. Bush's famous line about "fuzzy math." Well the City of San Francisco's new solar incentive plan (announced yesterday) isn't just fuzzy, it's positively hirsute.

The big picture is this: the notoriously cloudy city of San Francisco wants to incentivize residents and businesses to install solar energy arrays. The biggest impediment to doing so is cost-- the average 3KW solar rooftop system runs about $24,000.

So, through this new plan, City brass thinks it can spur the installation of more than 9,000 such arrays over the next decade by offering loans and rebates to property owners and installation contractors.

Where would the cash for this outlay come from? You guessed it: "annual tax assessments" on the affected properties. Now where this scheme goes off the rails and ceases to be just another tax and spend boondoggle is in the guts of the deal.

Property owners still have to pay for the system and then apply for the rebate, which is then paid directly to the installation contractor (after the installation is complete), who is "expected to knock off the amount of the rebate" from the property owner's bill. (That sounds enforcable!)

Businesses would be eligible for up to $10,000 rebates, while residents would be eligible for $3,000-$5,000, depending on whether they use a local contractor or livein an area close to a power plant. Right. Got it.

One has to wonder how much of this is driven by the fact that Berkeley lauchned a similar (albeit less ambitious and less convoluted) program last month. Is this a game of bureacratic one-upmanship or is this just San Francisco being San Francisco?