Amid an unrelenting effort to restore funding to a popular city program offering rebates for solar installations, Mayor Ed Lee announced Wednesday that he would double the budget by adding $2 million.
Fittingly, Lee made the announcement atop 450 Guerrero St., one of nine Boys & Girls Club campuses in San Francisco. He presented the nonprofit with a rebate of $43,297 under the GoSolar program for its recent installation of a 34-kilowatt solar system.
The demand for rebates under the program, which was launched in 2008, far exceeds available funding. The situation has been exacerbated in recent years because the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which administers the program, reduced funding from $5 million a year to an all-time low of $2 million this fiscal year.
Advocates of the program have called on the agency to restore the full $5 million, saying the cuts are a major setback for the celebrated effort.
The additional $2 million will provide $4 million in funding for the program for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
“We have some setbacks in the environmental movement sometimes, with the economy going down as it has,” Lee said. “But when we recover, we really have to recommit to these programs and make sure we’re on the right path.”
Joshua Arce, executive director of Brightline Defense Project, which was a vocal advocate for more GoSolar funding, said Lee’s announcement was “huge.” But Arce said his group will continue to advocate for the $5 million a year.
The Boys & Girls Club estimates that the solar power system will cut its $20,000 annual electricity bill in half. The installation, done by Occidental Power, cost $130,000 to $150,000.
The GoSolar installations also are creating jobs for local residents. According to the Mayor’s Office, 107 solar technicians have been trained and employed since the program started. Among them is Anthony DeFils, 24, of Visitacion Valley, who began working five months ago for Occidental Power after undergoing a 14-week green building training program. DeFils said he now has a rewarding career and expects to earn nearly $60,000 this year.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose district includes the Boys & Girls Club site, praised the GoSolar program and said he would like to see more installations.
“I think it’s such a huge lost opportunity,” Wiener said of not utilizing available space for solar arrays.
Since the program began, $17.1 million, which comes from the sale of electricity produced by the Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric system, has been provided for 2,158 applicants. The program has helped fund more than 6 megawatts of new solar arrays.