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Mayor to announce new program to finance solar power installations

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Mayor Lee Leffingwell is proposing a new program to help homeowners finance solar installations and eliminate the problem of over-subscription to Austin Energy’s popular solar rebate program. On Monday he said he was particularly pleased to have the support of both the Sierra Club and the Austin Chamber of Commerce for the proposal.


The Mayor, along with Council colleagues Mike Martinez and Randi Shade, is sponsoring an item on this week’s agenda that would direct City Manager Marc Ott to investigate how the city could issue certificates of obligation that would finance solar installations on residential rooftops. An essential part of the proposal, called Project Energize, would be to attach the loan repayment to the property owner’s tax bill.


Although property taxes for those participating would go up, Leffingwell points out that utility bills will go down, perhaps offsetting the cost of the infrastructure. Additionally, the program will help promote Austin’s Climate Protection Plan. Eventually, the program may totally replace Austin Energy’s residential solar rebate program.


Last year, Austin Energy set aside $4 million for rebates but ended up paying out more than $6 million because of demand. This year, Austin Energy has again budgeted $4 million, $2.7 million of which has already been committed to commercial property owners and homeowners seeking rebates to install solar infrastructure. After it became clear that they would not be able to keep up with all the applications, Austin Energy stopped accepting new applications. However, the program will reopen in November. With only $1.3 million left for the 2010 budget year, city officials were looking for a way to take care of the demand for help in the solar arena.  


“I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the potential of this program,” said Leffingwell. “If successful, it will help make solar energy accessible to many more local residents, help them save money on their home energy bills almost immediately, and continue to build on Austin’s growing reputation as a national leader on renewable energy initiatives.”


The proposal would not have been feasible before the passage of House Bill 1937, approved this year by the Texas Legislature. The new law allows cities to create energy districts to loan homeowners money for renewable power and energy efficiency infrastructure.


Leffingwell pointed out that the advantage of the program would be improved efficiency. “The reduction in monthly home energy bills could in some cases be greater than the loan repayments, resulting in an immediate net cash positive for some homeowners.”


One of the bill’s supporters, Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin), said in a press release, “This was probably the most important accomplishment of the past legislative session in the area of renewable energy.”


The bill’s sponsor was State Rep. Mike Villarreal (D- San Antonio). Leffingwell said Austin would be the first city in Texas to take advantage of the legislation, which is patterned after a similar program in California.


Leffingwell is holding a news conference to talk about the program at 1pm today at 6912 Villita Avenida Street.

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