Condoizing solar, part 3: patience required

As I noted in previous entries, getting a solar system for my condo complex will be a long process. I’ve had representatives from four solar companies assess our site, and they all said we have enough roof space for a system that would provide energy for the common electricity—on which we spend about $2000 a month. Three of the companies have submitted preliminary proposals for systems that would cost between $74,000 and $450,000, before incentives and rebates. We’ll have to decide how big we want our system to be and what we can afford.

The remaining challenges are a) determining which incentives we qualify for, as a condo, and b) determining how to finance the system. The HOA just doesn’t have the money to put into such improvements. Our answer to that may be a program sponsored by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, GreenFinanceSF. They’re providing a way to finance sustainable building improvements with 20-year loans that are paid back as part of property taxes, which are tax-deductible. That makes payments affordable.

The Mayor’s Office has not yet applied this program to condominiums, and they’re eager to work with us to help encourage others to follow suit. There’s still a lot to work out. We can’t force all residents to opt in to the program, so the HOA board is researching our options. Are we allowed to lower HOA dues for those who do opt in and raise them for those who don’t? That would be necessary for this program to be financially feasible. The good thing is that this would cover more than solar panels; we’re also looking into electric-car plug-ins, tankless water heaters, LED lights, and energy-efficient windows.

But a recent development puts a wrinkle in this plan: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the lenders they work with have said that they will not support loans under the GreenFinanceSF or PACE programs. Because of that, GreenFinanceSF and many similar programs have been suspended. The Mayor’s Office and other local governments around the country are working with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to encourage them to reconsider their position. In the meantime, we’re faced with more waiting, during which we have time to ponder the benefits of patience. At least the sun isn’t going anywhere!

7 thoughts on “Condoizing solar, part 3: patience required

  1. Mami

    How is it possible for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the lenders they work with, who are all so disgraced, to say that they will not support loans under the GreenFinanceSF or PACE programs? Someone should intervene. Good luck!

  2. Rafael

    An interesting problem where private finance, government, and condo governance all intersect. It all seems so backward: trying to do the right thing takes the most effort and has the most difficult path, when it should be government that should be making doing the right thing easier!

  3. John Taylor

    Rosana, you mentioned your condo might not have enough roof space for panels for both common and individual electricity. Would there have to be separate systems for common and each individual, or could HOA install one system and “sell” electricity to individual unit owners?

    I am on a condo board and we are interested in installing solar, but it would make a lot more sense if we could install one system and somehow use it both for common electricity and the undividual units.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Rosana Francescato

      Thanks for your comment, John! All our individual units are on separate meters, so we would need separate systems unless we were able to change that. In any case, even if we had one system I’ve been told we just don’t have enough roof space for all the units plus the common electricity–in fact, not even for just all the units. Apparently if a condo is taller than two stories, it’s unlikely that the roof space will be enough for all the units. Not a hard and fast rule, of course, and this is very likely to change in the future as new more efficient modules are developed. How big is your building?

      I really want to make this work, not just for us but also to encourage other condos to do the same. I’d love to hear if you’re successful in installing solar–I mean, “when” you’re successful. 😉

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