The city of Berkeley, Calif., shows how to take serious action on climate disruption by paying up-front costs to help residents switch to solar power.

This could be done at any scale, from village to nation. All that is needed is wisdom and an understanding that any "ROI" (return on investment) calculation that doesn’t include the risk that failure to respond to climate disruption will bankrupt us (in addition to its moral bankruptcy) isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Berkeley is set to become the first city in the nation to help thousands of its residents generate solar power without having to put money up front — attempting to surmount one of the biggest hurdles for people who don’t have enough cash to go green.

The City Council will vote Nov. 6 on a plan for the city to finance the cost of solar panels for property owners who agree to pay it back with a 20-year assessment on their property. Over two decades, the taxes would be the same or less than what property owners would save on their electric bills, officials say.

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This is how Berkeley’s program would work:

A property owner would hire a city-approved solar installer, who would determine the best solar system for the property, depending on energy use. Most residential solar panel systems in the city cost from $15,000 to $20,000.

The city would pay the contractor for the system and its installation, minus any applicable state and federal rebates, and would add an assessment to the property owner’s tax bill to pay for the system.

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The extra tax would include administrative fees and interest, which would be lower than what the property owner could obtain on his own, because the city would secure low-interest bonds and loans, officials say. The tax would stay with the property even if the owner sold, although the owner would have to leave the solar panels.

The property owner would save money on monthly Pacific Gas & Electric bill because electricity generated by the solar panels would partly replace electricity delivered by the utility. After the assessment expired, the solar panels — of a simple technology that requires little or no maintenance — would continue to partly replace PG&E electricity …

For more information about Berkeley’s energy-saving initiatives, go to

For information on California’s incentives and rebates for installing solar panels, go to or