San Carlos program aims to increase solar power use

SAN CARLOS, CALIFORNIA - San Carlos wants residents and business owners to get some sun this summer - and protect the environment in the process.

The city has partnered with Foster City-based SolarCity, a company that installs solar power systems at homes and businesses, to get people to sign up for such installations by August 27.

SolarCity officials said the goal in San Carlos is to get at least 15 to 20 homes to go solar by offering a discount of up to 20 percent on the installation price. The goal is based on market studies that take into account demographics and SolarCity's past sales history for the San Carlos area. Those who sign up early will be entered into a drawing to receive an additional $3,000 discount on the price.

City officials saw how similar programs have worked in other Bay Area communities and wanted to try it in San Carlos, Mayor Tom Davids said.

"It is for the environment as well as (people's) own pocketbooks," Davids said. Solar power is a renewable energy source, and it reduces global warming, SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said.

"It's more efficient," said Sy Tong, a contractor who builds custom homes around the Bay Area. One of his latest projects is a home in Los Altos Hills that is using SolarCity to install a solar system. "It's trendy. Everyone wants to put solar panels in," Tong said.

In a similar program in Mountain View, SolarCity's goal was to get 40 homeowners to switch to solar power. It ended up installing solar systems on 120 homes, Rive said.

In San Jose, the goal was 40 homes, and now with two weeks left in that city's program, 52 homeowners have signed up. SolarCity has also offered similar programs in Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Atherton and Woodside. "We have been very effective in other cities," Rive said. Financing solar systems makes the most sense, Rive said.

If someone pays cash for a system, which can cost $15,000 to $25,000 with the incentives, it would take nine to 12 years to recoup the costs, but if someone finances it, he or she would break even because of how much money solar power saves. The incentives include a tax credit for businesses of up to 30 percent of a solar system's cost and a 25 percent rebate on the system's installation for residents.


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