Solar America City: Santa Rosa’s Clean Energy Advocate

Even if you live in a county where your GHG emissions reduction targets are 25% below 1990 levels by 2015, your Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP) is one of four successful local government property assessed clean energy programs in the U.S., and your solar installation goal is 25MW in by 2011, you still aren’t satisfied.

“Surprisingly, there’s still a disconnect between property owners and all the renewable energy and energy efficiency opportunities available to them,” said Tasha Wright, Santa Rosa Utilities representative.  “We want to help them understand what’s available and to make informed choices about energy options.  The Clean Energy Advocate is just the right thing for us here in Sonoma County.”

The City of Santa Rosa is working out the details of its new Clean Energy Advocate pilot project within Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, thanks to a recent grant from DOE’s Solar America Cities Special Project funding.  The Clean Energy Advocate project is designed to provide an independent, non-commercial advocate to help property owners purchase and install solar.

The City of Santa Rosa is the project lead for the Solar America City initiative, but the initiative includes the Cities of Cloverdale, Cotati, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Sonoma and Windsor, as well as the County of Sonoma.    The program will also work closely with PG&E and the IBEW as it did for the previous DOE grant.

All of the cities and the County joined Solar Sonoma County (SSC) a new county-wide solar nonprofit organization which also includes local businesses, solar vendors, and community members – a true public-private partnership.

“We borrowed the idea for a clean energy advocate from the City of Madison and Portland, Oregon,” said Wright, someone who’s on staff who can impartially help with the process, from locating installers to reviewing installer proposals to explaining rebate and incentive programs.   Based on what we’ve heard from our community, which includes not only homeowners, installers and technical experts, we know that there’s so much information out there, some of which can be intimidating and overwhelming.  We want to make sure property owners can get reliable and unbiased energy information.”

Though the City is still finalizing the contractual details with DOE, Wright said that she and others are working on the scope of tasks for the advocate which will include a strong focus on energy efficiency renewable energy as well as water conservation.

Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have strong energy efficiency programs, like Build-it-Green,’ established as a voluntary initiative in 2004, now mandatory, and ‘Energy Efficiency First,’ an initiative that would require 80% of Sonoma County homes and commercial spaces to be retrofitted to the highest possible efficiency level.  Sonoma County is one of four local governments with a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP), a property tax financing mechanism which allows property owners to borrow money from the county’s Sustainable Energy Financing District to install photovoltaic (PV) systems and repay the cost over 20 years through an annual special tax on property tax bills. If the property owner moves or sells the property before the loan is paid back, the remaining balance—along with the renewable energy system– transfers to the buyer.  SCEIP allows a huge laundry list of energy efficiency and renewable energy systems. To date, over 700 residents in Sonoma County have taken advantage of the program.

“We know that our clean energy advocate would complement the energy efficiency programs,” said Wright, “as someone on board to field questions and direct consumers to the right place.”

The ‘to do’ list for the clean energy advocate is still evolving.

“We’ll probably hold some consumer workshops,” said Wright, “but the advocate will be doing a lot of hand-holding, like helping consumers understand incentive and rebate programs, how to apply for them, reviewing installer proposals.  One idea is to use aerial mapping tools to screen properties for maximum benefit, then follow up with the consumer (whether residential, business or commercial), and help them understand the breadth of opportunities available to them.  If they understand what’s available, they’ll be able to make informed energy decisions, and it will help us keep on track to meet our GHG and solar goals.”

The DOE Special Project award is a two-year grant.

For more information about the City of Santa Rosa’s Special Projects award, contact Tasha Wright at twright@srcity.org.

 

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