Office of Energy and Sustainable Development
Office of Energy and Sustainable Development

Berkeley FIRSTBerkeley FIRST installations
Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology .  

In 2008, the City of Berkeley launched the Berkeley Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology (FIRST), a program to promote solar photovoltaic (PV) installations using a pioneering financing mechanism. The now concluded pilot program provided property owners an opportunity to borrow money from the City’s Sustainable Energy Financing District for the installation of solar photovoltaic electric systems. The Berkeley FIRST program served as a model for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs across the country. Although Berkeley FIRST program is no longer available for residential properties, take advantage of our other solar and renewable energy programs.                                                    Photo Courtesy Sungevity Corp

  • CaliforniaFIRST:The CaliforniaFIRST Program is a solar and clean energy financing program for non-residential properties (like Berkeley FIRST but for commercial properties). CaliforniaFIRST allows property owners to finance the installation of energy and water improvements on commercial, industrial or multi-family (over 5 units) buildings and pay the amount back as a line item on their property tax bill. 
  • Free Solar Analysis: The SmartSolar Program offers free indiviualized information and technical assistance to help property owners understand their building's potential for solar, including the costs and benefits of going solar. The service is offered by the nonprofit organization Community Energy Services Corporation, which can be reached at 510-981-7750.
  • Solarmap: The Berkeley Solar Map is an interactive tool for viewing the locations of existing solar installations in Berkeley. 

The City of Berkeley is committed to meeting its Climate Action Plan goals by creating a healthy and sustainable community.  Promoting renewable energy is an important component of the Climate Action Plan as it helps us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Check out how local solar photovoltaic installations are helping us reach our renewable energy target. For more information about other Climate Action Plan goals see:

Berkeley FIRST Pilot Program Berkeley FIRST program was intended to solve many of the financial hurdles of incorporating solar on their homes. The advantages of the Berkeley FIRST program were:

  • There was relatively little up-front cost to the property owner.
  • The cost for the solar system is paid for through a special tax on the property, and is spread over 20 years.
  • The financing costs were comparable to a traditional equity line or mortgage.
  • Since the solar system stays with the property, so does the tax obligation—if the property is transferred or sold, the new owners will pay the remaining tax obligation.

The City of Berkeley has produced a guide on how to institute property tax based financing districts; to download, see Berkeley FIRST How To Guide

The FIRST program concluded its pilot. The pilot program used Berkeley’s powers as a charter city to provide property owners an opportunity to borrow money from the City’s Sustainable Energy Financing District.  Renewable Funding LLC, the third party administrator for the Berkeley FIRST program, conducted the application process and administered the program.

The purpose of the Berkeley FIRST pilot program was to test the viability of the financing mechanism.  It was limited to PV to keep the process simple by referring to existing State standards.  Other PACE programs have operated at much larger scales and have included energy and water efficiency measures which generally have better financial returns. Thirteen solar installation projects, distributed throughout Berkeley, received funding through the Berkeley FIRST pilot program.  The Berkeley FIRST Program was funded by grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Current Status Since the completion of the Berkeley FIRST pilot, there have been many developments related to PACE.  Most importantly, the Federal Housing Finance Authority, Freddie Mac and Fannie May have issued strict rulings against any residential PACE program that places a PACE loan in a superior position to a mortgage.  Unless and until these issues are resolved, Berkeley will not be establishing an ongoing program.    

Berkeley FIRST Documents

Rebates: See California Solar Initiative (CSI) and IRS for Federal Energy Tax Credits.

Check the Updates link for the most current announcements. Subscribe to receive email notifications whenever there are any updates. 

Return to Energy and Sustainable Development homepage

Home | Web Policy | Text-Only Site Map | Contact Us
Office of Energy and Sustainable Development, 2120 Milvia St., Berkeley, CA 94704
Questions or comments? Email: Phone: (510) 981-7439
(510) 981-CITY/2489 or 311 from any landline in Berkeley
TTY: (510) 981-6903