April 17, 2009 – Volume 12, Issue 5
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


Assessment Financing

This past July 21st, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 811 into law, a bill that amended the California Streets and Highways Code. It allows cities and counties to provide funds for voluntary property assessments for efficiency measures and renewable energy systems. What the heck does that mean?

It means any property owner - you or me - can get 100% of the cost of a solar system from our city - and repay the loan over time on our biannual or annual property taxes. Just as we are assessed for school districts, sidewalks, undergrounding power lines, etc., California cities can now lend their homeowners and commercial property owners money at preferential rates.

Is this a panacea? Probably not. But can it greatly stimulate investments? Yes. Why? It's a unique financing mechanism that will complement existing financing such as home equity loans. It creates a lien on the property, meaning that the assessment will be transferred to the next owner in the event of sale. And since it is tied to the property, and not its owner, a property owner needs only clear title to secure the loan.

Berkeley and Cisco DeVries got the action going in the City of Berkeley with its announcement of a solar financing district. After considerable program planning, Berkeley has lent $1.5 million to about 40 property owners in a pilot program for photovoltaic systems that was fully subscribed in nine minutes! Berkeley used a different platform as the basis for its program: using the Mello-Roos program that was established in the aftermath of California's Prop 13 that capped property taxes. By establishing Mello-Roos districts, cities can raise funds for fire and police stations, parks, etc. Berkeley extended this to solar systems that provide a public benefit for climate protection.

Enabling private investment was clearly not the intent of Mello-Roos, so Palm Desert-and notably Councilmember Jim Ferguson and then City Manager Carlos Ortega -- sought another route, and ultimately succeeded in amending the Streets and Highways Code to explicitly allow energy efficiency fixtures (that are affixed to the home) and renewable energy systems to be financed through the assessment mechanism.

In Palm Desert and on August 29th - just six weeks after AB 811 was signed into law -- 300 residents were lined up to take advantage of what the City named the "Energy Independence Program." EcoMotion, serving as program designer, worked with City officials as well as legal and financial experts to craft the program guidelines. (These are available on line for other cities.) So far, $7.5 million has been lent or reserved, half for solar, half for efficiency measures such as air conditioning system upgrades, with many more property owners in the queue.

EcoMotion has more recently served as a program design consultant to Sonoma County, resulting in the State's largest program. It was approved by the County Board of Supervisors in late March. The County Administrator and County Controller Rod Dole spearheaded the program initially promoted by the innovative Sonoma County Water Agency. The Energy Independence program in Sonoma will help attain the County's progressive carbon mitigation goals, 25% below 1990 levels by 2015. Sonoma County provides the first regional glimpse at AB 811, with nine incorporated cities, an aggregate population over 300,000, and an economy shaped by vineyards and rolling hills just an hour north of San Francisco.

Facing significant energy and environmental goals and largely unfunded mandates, dozens of California cities and counties are exploring AB 811, from San Diego to San Francisco. A statewide program is being developed for small cities. And a dozen other states, from Vermont to Arizona are exploring similar legislation for assessment financing.

On June 12th EcoMotion is hosting the Palm Desert AB 811 Conference, an intensive, all-day, no-frills conference to explore the potential of assessment financing, and to compare and contrast models for financing and implementation. Program architects from Palm Desert, Berkeley, and Sonoma County will provide lessons learned, counsel and financiers will share concerns and strategies to clarify legal pitfalls.

Sun Power for the Schools Solar Primer Workshop

EcoMotion successfully convenes and facilitates eight Resource Team meetings for Palm Desert's first Sustainability and Climate Action Plan.
"Germany is the world's leader in climate protection and has achieved its Kyoto targets three years early."
Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel

"Thanks for such a nice issue [the Yosemite special] from truly one of my favorite places. As a kid we used to go to Tuolumne Meadows or Tenaya Lake each summer for a two week vacation. It was without question the highlight of my life while growing up. "
Dave Munk, Carbondale, Colorado

Germany Meets Kyoto Early

Germany and the European Union signed the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases. Germany's requirement was to cut its GHGs by 21%, to realize an 8% drop from 1990 levels by 2012. Industrialized counties are to cut emissions by 5.2% in aggregate from 1990 levels, with specific targets for each country established through the Kyoto Protocol within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The German Federal Environment Agency reports that its goal was exceeded in 2008, and that Germany cut GHGs by 23.3% from 1990 levels. It now emits 957 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent, below its 974 million metric tonnes target, having cut 12 million tonnes in 2008.

One of Germany's advantages in meeting the target was the fall of the Soviet Union, resulting unification with Eastern Germany, and thus the collapse of heavily polluting industries there. Fully 88% of Germany's GHGs are related to CO2, and of that, coal-fired power generation has been the number one target for reductions. National policy has shifted power generation from coal - supported not too many years ago with the "coal pfennig" subsidy - to natural gas generation and renewables. But a German professor noted, "We cannot rest on our laurels- we have to prepare for the future and to focus on green technologies that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further."

Empire News!

The Empire State Building is a proud symbol of New York, and now, thanks to the Clinton Climate Initiative, it is going green. In 1931, it won the race to be the world's tallest skyscraper. Today it is considered America's favorite building, its broadcast platform is among the most important in one of the world's most important markets, and its observatory is the region's top tourist stop.

President Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced recently that the building will undergo an efficiency retrofit to save energy and reduce its environmental footprint, cutting energy use by 38% and with a goal of being LEED Gold certified. Soon it will be among the region's greenest buildings thanks to a partnership between the Clinton Climate Initiative, Johnson Controls, Jones Long LaSalle, Rocky Mountain Institute, and the Empire State Building.

The $20 million retrofit is part of a $500 million building refurbishing process that began in 2007 and that is due for completion in 2013. It includes a number of efficiency measures, from installation of 6,500 triple-glazed thermopane glass panels, to radiant barriers behind radiators, to lighting, chiller and ventilation controls, to an innovative system of individualized, web-based power usage systems for tenants, allowing for tenant comfort control. The retrofit is anticipated to reduce the skyscraper's footprint by 105,000 metric tonnes of CO2 annually, cutting energy costs by $4.4 million.

General Motors Goes Ultra Light

After years of SUVs, we finally have ULVs or ultra-light vehicles. And General Motors is leading the charge, announcing its partnership with Segway in early April to develop the P.U.M.A. which stands for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility.

The PUMA is awesome, sort of a grown-up Segway for two. Ironically, it brings back training wheels! And in this case, and as it is marketed, less is more: It takes up less space, it uses less energy, is requires fewer parts, and it emits fewer emissions from its manufacture to its use.

Like the Segway Personal Transporter (SPT), the one-person model promoted by President Bush senior and now used by police departments, airport security, etc., PUMA features a dynamic stabilization system for balance and a "true zero" turning radius. Now in prototype development, the PUMA will feature vehicle-to-vehicle communications to prevent collisions. Segway envisions a suite of urban solutions, from walking up to 2 kilometers, SPTs for up to 10 km trips, and PUMAs for over 20 km. The PUMA travels at up to 35 miles per hour for up to 35 miles.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Tata Motors Nano, dubbed the world's cheapest car. How might it shape urbanization? How will it affect our global addiction to oil? Designed to sell for about 100,000 rupees ($2,500 US), Tata's goal is to "bring automotive transport to the mainstream Indian population." It was introduced by Mr. Tata himself at the New Delhi Auto Show last January and has been called "the people's car," a 10 * 5 foot four-door with wheels "at the absolute corners." Sunvisors and radios are extra.

Community Solar!

The City of Ellensburg, Washington is a pioneer in community solar. In fact, it claimed the nation's first community solar plant when it went live in 2006 with a 36 kW system. Now Ellensburg hosts a 57 kW solar system just off Highway 90 that is owned by the community, by homeowners and business owners in town who take advantage of a program of "virtual net energy metering" that allows them to get credits on their own power bills for their share of the community system. Ultimately, Ellensburg expects the community solar plant to be 168 kW at the current site.

The Ellensburg project is being built in approximately 12 kW increments, based on "essential investments" by home and property owners. Phase 1 (24 kW) and Phase 2 (12 kW) were sold out immediately. Anyone in town who wants to "go solar" can call the City's Energy Services division to sign up.

Community systems offer a number of benefits, especially for those who lack suitable "roof real estate" and who would like to be part of the power solution. By aggregating users, larger and more cost efficient systems can be installed, and they can be monitored and maintained. Currently, the Ellensburg Community PV Project is a partnership that has conceived and realized Washington's largest solar array: 192, Schott ASE 300 watt modules, Sunny Boy Inverters, and a Fat Spaniel Technologies Energy Monitoring service and weather station.

Feed-In Tariff in South Africa

South Africa has announced Africa's first feed-in tariff for renewable energy, and it is among the world's most aggressive in terms of prices. Announced on March 31 by NERSA (the National Energy Regulator in South Africa), the FIT provides incentives for every kilowatt-hour generated from wind, hydro, landfill gas generation, and concentrating solar for 20 years. The power will be purchased by the RE Purchase Agency within Eskom, the South African utility. The wind price ($0.138/kWh) is higher than Germany's, where the FIT created the largest wind industry in the world. The solar incentive of $0.232/kWh is lower than Spain's, but is expected to provide investors with a reasonable return after recovering their costs given the country's bright sunshine. NERSA may broaden its FIT schedule to include other renewable technologies after a six-month period.