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City may add incentives for solar energy

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Saturday June 02, 2001

To kick start the use of alternative energy in residences, the mayor will ask the City Council on Tuesday to consider fast-tracking the city’s permit process and waiving fees for those who install solar devices. 

If approved, the city manager will work with the Planning and Development Department to determine the best way to speed up the permit process.  

“I thought we’d better get this on the agenda, because I want to make sure we are on the fast track on these issues,” said Mayor Shirley Dean. 

Dean made energy conservation a priority during her State of the City speech on May 1. She has been a strong advocate of recent technological developments in photovotaic power, a form of solar power that turns the sun’s energy into electricity. 

Photovotaic panels can be installed in homes and apartments for about $10,000 per unit, according to a report from the mayor’s office. That cost can be offset by two state rebate programs, which can reduce the cost to as low as $3,000, according to the report. 

In addition, Pacific Gas & Electricity is offering a program that will hook photovotaic-equipped residences up to the power grid thereby allowing them to sell excess energy produced by the panels back to the utility.  

Dean said she is meeting with local banks to see if they will offer low-interest loans to homeowners who install the systems. 

At the People’s State of the City Address on Tuesday, Councilmember Dona Spring proposed a bond measure that would raise funds to pay for all homes and apartments to be equipped with photovotaic systems at no cost to the property owner. 

Planning and Development Interim Deputy Director Vivian Kahn said she had not seen the mayor’s recommendation and could not comment on any specifics, but she said Oakland’s Planning Department had adopted a similar program. 

“Streamlining the process could take amending the zoning ordinance and adopting a new fee schedule to waive application fees,” she said. 

On other energy fronts, Dean said she has been meeting with the 14 Alameda County mayors to discuss an effective way to influence the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for setting “just and reasonable” energy rates for gas and electricity. The commission has not set a rate cap on the wholesale price of natural gas or electricity despite skyrocketing rates set by energy wholesalers. 

In Dean’s written recommendation, she states that California paid 28 cents for 1 million Btus of natural gas in 1998. Within two years that price has soared to $8.14. 

“We’re quite serious about this and have not ruled out a possible Mayors’ March on Washington to get FERC’s attention,” Dean said. “This is a bipartisan issue in the county and state, lights go out for Republicans the same way they do Democrats.” 

The issue will be considered by the council on June 5. The “special” meeting is scheduled to start at 5:15 p.m. with public comment. Then the council will go into closed session to discuss two issues. It will then recess to open session again to consider the energy recommendation.  

The council will convene a second meeting at 7 p.m. to hold a public hearing on the Temple Beth El project at 1301 Oxford St. The meetings will take place in Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.