Berkeley FIRST Frequently Asked Questions

The Berkeley FIRST program was a first-in-the-nation pilot program to allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements and solar system installation as a voluntary long-term assessment on their individual property tax bill. The pilot has concluded. For Berkeley FIRST general information, see: Berkeley FIRST information page. To learn more about current similar financing programs, see California First at: https://californiafirst.org/ Frequently Asked Questions

What does FIRST stand for?

Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology. 

What is the relationship between the City of Berkeley and Renewable Funding?

Renewable Funding LLC was under contract with the City of Berkeley as the third party administrator for the Berkeley FIRST program. Renewable Funding oversaw the application process and reviewed all application property documentation. To learn more about Renewable Funding, please visit: www.renewfund.com

Does Berkeley FIRST fund Energy Efficiency and Solar Hot Water installation?

The pilot program only provided funding for solar photovoltaic systems. The City of Berkeley encourages completing energy efficiency upgrades prior to adding solar. In many circumstances, the most cost effective way to reduce energy costs is to improve the efficiency of a building.  

Are there limits to the number of people who can participate?

The FIRST program funded 40 installations distributed throughout Berkeley. Financing of up to $37,500 per installation for either residential or commercial properties citywide was available for these projects. During this pilot phase the City evaluated the program. 

I don't live in Berkeley; can I still apply for funding from this program?

Only residential or commercial properties located in the City of Berkeley were eligible for funding; however Berkeley property owners did not have to live in Berkeley to apply. 

What were the program eligibility requirements?

  • All property owners on title must have agreed to terms of the program and sign the required FIRST documents. 
  • Property must not have had any notices of default on mortgage, property taxes or any other type of financial obligation; no tax liens as a result of a failure to pay taxes within past 3 years and no current mechanic liens in excess of $1,000. 
  • Property must have complied with the City of Berkeley Residential or Commercial Ordinances (RECO/CECO) prior to the disbursement of payment for the solar installation. 
  • Property owner was required to apply for and comply with the California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebate program in order to receive a rebate on the cost of the program. 
  • Property owner was required to consent to release of names and contact information to CSI and PG&E billing information for the period of 18 months prior and following installation. 

Will I be taxed if do not want to participate?

No, the special tax was not imposed on taxpayers who chose not to participate in the program. Property owners would pay a special tax only if they “opted-in” to the Special Tax District and had work done on their property as part of the program. 

How much will I pay if I do choose to participate?

The annual special tax amount for each property owner was calculated based upon (a) the cost of the energy project installed in that property owner’s residential or commercial property, (b) the interest rate paid by the City on Special Tax Bonds or other monies used to fund the cost of that property owner’s energy project, (c) administrative charges levied by the City and County. 

How was the interest rate on the Bonds be calculated?

The interest rate was set at 3.25% over the 10-year U.S. Treasury Note. The interest rate iwas fixed for the 20-year duration of the repayment once a participant requests funding. City and County property tax administrations were also included in the final rate. 

What if the property owner does not pay the Special Tax?

The Berkeley FIRST Special Tax, like other property taxes, was secured by a lien on the subject property, which ranks senior to the first mortgage. Failure to pay property taxes can lead to the foreclosure of a property in order to collect delinquent taxes. 

If I participated in the Berkeley FIRST program, can I still get other tax deductions, credits and rebates?

Program participants are required to apply to the California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebate program, which helps offset the total cost of your solar project. The FIRST program did not reduce the amount of the rebate available through the CSI program. Participants should have consulted a tax professional to determine whether income deductions or tax credits could be claimed on personal taxes. 

How quickly will I receive payment from the City?

Once the installation was completed and the final inspection from the City of Berkeley Building and Safety Division was signed off, the property owner could request payment from the City's Solar Financing District. In order to receive payment, the property owner must have submitted all final documents required as part of the Solar Financing District Agreement including: 

  • Copy of final invoice from installer, including as built system size per CSI requirements 
  • California Solar Initiative rebate letter 
  • Final inspection notice 
  • Signed authorization for release of CSI and PG&E information 
  • Signed program terms and disclosures 
  • Signed unanimous consent and liability release 

The City of Berkeley will verify RECO or CECO compliance prior to authorizing the disbursement of funds. 

What happens if I sell my property?

The special tax obligation will remain as an obligation of the property when the property is sold. If the owner sells the property prior to the end of the 20-year tax period, the new owner takes over the special tax obligation as part of the annual tax obligation on the property. The energy systems are part of the property and ownership of the energy system will transfer to the new owner at the close of the real estate sale. 

Could I use any contractor for the solar installation?

The owner could have contracted directly with any qualified private solar installer registered with the California Solar Initiative (www.gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov

What permits were needed through the City of Berkeley to install solar PV on my home?

Electrical permits were required for all solar PV installations. Zoning and building permits may also have been needed depending on the installation. For more information, see the Solar Photovoltaic Permit Guide and Solar PV Submittal Requirements

I am a solar installer or contractor and would have liked to participate. What was the process?

In order to participate in the program, installers must have been registered with the California Solar Initiative (www.gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov). Contracts were made solely between property owners and installers, not the Berkeley FIRST program. For more information on the role of the solar installer see the presentations listed below from the Solar Installer's Workshop. 

October 10, 2008 Solar Installer Workshop Presentation Materials: 

I was unable to property owner community workshops but would still like to review the presentations.

Workshops for Property Owners were held on October 14, 15 and 21, 2008. Please find copies of the presentations below: 

Please click here to subscribe to receive regular updates on the Berkeley FIRST program.