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September 23, 2009 > Affordable solar for the masses

Affordable solar for the masses

By Meenu Gupta

The sun is clean and free so why not harness its power to conserve energy and make utilities more affordable for homeowners and businesses? Supervisor Dave Cortese proposes a new program managed by Santa Clara County that will make solar panels and energy-efficiency retrofits economically feasible for homeowners and businesses.

AB 811, enacted in 2008 by the State legislature, makes this program effective this year. The law authorizes cities and counties in California to lend direct to homeowners specifically before solar energy installation and retrofitting.

"We can make these loans at low, market interest rates, if we so desire. That authorization allows the counties to make that kind of loan, which is not otherwise allowed, direct to the public," said Cortese. "The county can use different sources of funds. We don't know exactly how low those interest rates might be but they will definitely be in low single-digits," he said.

People can select their own contractors. The actual contract for work is between the homeowner and a chosen vendor.

"We like to partner with various cities, including San Jose, because they already do a lot of work with the neighborhood associations. The same applies to Milpitas," said Cortese.

This program will also create new jobs and spur economic development.

"We think it will create many new jobs and additional work. We've a lot of skill and work force requirement in the area of solar energy and green residential buildings," he said. "The technology is available but has still been out of reach for most homeowners. The economy is one reason it's been tough for people to borrow money. It's tough for people who are worried about losing their homes and losing their jobs.

"With the loan program, we can significantly reduce the upfront cost so the homeowner immediately starts realizing savings on their utility bills including gas, electricity and water," said Cortese.

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