SAN FRANCISCO, CA--Just as community advocacy got underway to restore looming budget cuts to San Francisco's landmark GoSolarSF program, on Wednesday April 30 Mayor Ed Lee announced full funding of $5 million for the program for each of the next two years, providing a critical shot in the arm to the City's efforts to install solar panels on local homes, businesses, and non-profits and create jobs in economically disadvantaged communities.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu joined city officials such as Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly and SFPUC President Vince Courtney, as well as solar and jobs advocates, for the announcement, after an April 10 hearing called by Sup. Chiu uncovered declining solar installations due to ongoing GoSolarSF funding challenges and served to remind policy makers of the widespread environmental, community, and labor support for the program.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is now set to deliberate over the Public Utilities Commission two-year budget, particularly around allocations for the power enterprise's infrastructure investments, energy efficient street lighting, a reserve allocated for CleanPowerSF, and a proposed rate increase for municipal electricity customers.
Mayor Lee's announcement is a major win for the City's environmental agenda, as GoSolarSF has become a model for the state and nation in terms of expanding local renewable energy generation, providing solar access to low-income customers in environmental justice communities and targeting job creation. That progress has stalled recently, as advocates learned at Sup. Chiu's April 10 hearing that only 264 GoSolarSF installations have been performed this year, compared to an average of 456 installations in the previous 5 years.
The news was greeted with a roar of applause by hundreds gathered yesterday for an International Workers Day rally at City Hall, as GoSolarSF is one of the only renewable energy programs in the country to have developed a partnership between organized labor and solar contractors to install local distributed generation with a union workforce.
"GoSolarSF is a model clean energy program that is creating good paying green jobs for San Francisco workers, while also making solar renewable energy accessible to our residents and businesses," said Mayor Lee.
Recent changes to the GoSolarSF incentive structure developed by SFPUC staff and the San Francisco Department of the Environment mean that full funding for GoSolarSF is expected to go even farther in promoting solar and solar jobs, resulting in an expected 8 megawatts of local renewables. The U.S. Department of Energy's 2012 SunShot Vision Study demonstrates that San Francisco can expect to create an estimated 200 local installation jobs with this two-year investment, as well as 200 jobs in manufacturing and distribution, plus even more indirect jobs.
The Godmother of Bayview Hunters Point, Dr. Espanola Jackson, who made history five years ago by becoming GoSolarSF's first low-income customer, was on hand for Wednesday's announcement, as well as California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild, who worked with Assemblymember Phil Ting, former Mayor Gavin Newsom, members of the Board of Supervisors, and the SFPUC to create GoSolarSF in 2008. SFPUC staff were joined by Alison Healy, the SF Department of Environment's new Renewable Energy Program Manager.
"This is a program that has been very successful, it's a program that is both creating important jobs and doing good for the environment. [GoSolarSF] is a model for the rest of the state and frankly the rest of the country on how we need to move forward in this area," said Sup. Chiu at his April 10 hearing.
National advocates such as the Vote Solar Initiative have long championed GoSolarSF, joined by a number of important and diverse voices. At the April 10 Board hearing, Sierra Club political chair John Rizzo joined Vote Solar's Rosalind Jackson to highlight the fact that full funding for GoSolarSF has been a Club priority for many years. Diego Hernandez from Laborers Union Local 261 made the case at Sup. Chiu's hearing that there is power in partnership between environmentalists, organized labor, community groups, and the solar sector.
Asian Neighborhood Design's Chris Reyes and his team brought out students from their training class, as AND has trained more than half of the 121 economically disadvantaged workers who have secured employment through GoSolarSF to date with companies such as Luminalt and SolarCity. In fact, Luminalt CEO Jeanine Cotter has been profiled on CNN for her vision of solar as a means of serving not only the environment but low-income communities of color and disadvantaged workers. Luminalt's Melissa McDermott and her path to success were highlighted in a 2013 San Francisco Examiner story.
Supervisors London Breed and Katy Tang joined Supervisor Chiu in expressing their support for GoSolarSF, with Sup. Breed noting that she wants to see long-term retention for all workers who gain access to solar employment through the program's workforce development requirement.
Industry leaders such as Sunrun and Sungevity provided testimony on April 10 that a fully-funded GoSolarSF is critical for state-level solar policy discussions. Sunrun Public Policy Analyst Sarah Wolfe spoke of Sunrun's success in supporting 4,000 jobs nationwide and 300 local employees at their San Francisco headquarters. "San Francisco is really the hub of clean energy, clean tech, and solar policy...This program has been truly remarkable - it's facilitated the growth of solar in the city across all customer classes as well as fostering the job training and workforce development programs that we've heard about," said Wolfe. "It's important that we remain this hub to be a model for the rest of the state so that we can foster these important jobs and this important development."
Full funding for GoSolarSF for two years will address the program's fundamental needs, and Sup. Chiu had even signalled his readiness to pursue an SFPUC audit to identify increased funds for the landmark program, which pays for itself over time through increased property revenue on solarized buildings. Nicholas Josefowitz, founder of Leadership for a Clean Economy, likened GoSolarSF's funding uncertainty to that of a bus from downtown to the ocean that stops halfway to its destination. Sungevity Director of Government Affairs Hilary Pearson proposed a series of much-needed administrative upgrades to the program. And there is work to be done to increase GoSolarSF's connection to state-certified apprenticeship programs, potentially through coordination with the City's successful CityBuild Academy.
One of the most important areas of promise in light of Mayor Lee's commitment, however, is that a fully-funded GoSolarSF and the resulting burst of new jobs will provide the opportunity to increase employment opportunities for communities such as the Western Addition and Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside to match the level of jobs that have benefited residents of other economically disadvantaged neighborhoods around San Francisco.
"We have never had one, much less two, years of full funding for GoSolarSF since 2010," said Brightline policy counsel Eddie Ahn, who has led efforts to petition the Mayor and Board for increased solar funding. "There's a lot of good that we will do with this program over the next two years for the environment, for workers, and for the community."