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Municipalities making it pay to go green

Fri., Dec. 28, 2007

PARKLAND, Fla. – Free hybrid-car parking. Cash rebates for installing solar panels. Low-interest loans for energy-saving home renovations. Money to tear up desert lawns and replace them with drought-resistant landscaping.

Frustrated by what they see as insufficient action by state and federal government, municipalities around the country are offering financial incentives to get people to go green.

“A lot of localities recognize they’re going to get a lot more done using carrots and incentives rather than regulatory means,” said Jason Hartke, director of advocacy for the U.S. Green Building Council.

In Parkland, where the motto is “Environmentally Proud,” the city plans next year to begin dispensing cash rebates to its 25,000 residents for being more environmentally friendly.

“We will literally issue them a check,” said Vice Mayor Jared Moskowitz. “We’re sick of waiting for the federal government to do something, so we’ve got to do what we can.”

Residents who install low-flow toilets or shower heads will get $150. Replacing an old air conditioner with a more energy-efficient one brings $100. Buying a hybrid car? An additional $200 cash back. And the list goes on.

Based on an estimate of 1,000 residents participating in the rebate program during the first year, the city predicts it will cost up to $100,000.

“Could this bankrupt the city if the program grows by leaps and bounds?” Moskowitz asked. “I can only wish that so many residents want to go green that that becomes an issue.”

Many states already offer similar rebates and incentives through tax breaks, loans and perks such as allowing hybrid-car drivers to use car pool lanes. Utilities have long provided incentives to buy energy-efficient appliances, solar panels and toilets that use less water. The federal government, too, offers tax breaks for purchases of many hybrid vehicles and energy-saving products.

Still, for many cities, it’s just not enough.

“In terms of waiting for the federal government, we’ve waited a long time, and frankly, we haven’t gotten very much,” said Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of Environment. “And how do you change someone’s behavior? The simple answer is cash.”

Starting next year, San Francisco will offer homeowners rebates of up to $5,000 for installing solar panels if they use a local contractor. Coupled with state and federal incentives, that could cut in half the $21,000 cost for an average household, Blumenfeld said.

The city will also cover up to 90 percent of the costs of making apartment buildings more energy-efficient, and will pay residents $150 to replace old appliances.

The neighboring city of Berkeley is financing the cost of solar panels for homeowners who agree to pay the money back through a 20-year property tax assessment.

Nearby Marin County offers a $500 rebate to homeowners who install solar systems.

In Arizona, many cities pay residents to replace grass with artificial turf or plants that use less water. Scottsdale, outside Phoenix, will pay up to $1,500.

“We’re in the middle of a desert and water is absolutely the most precious resource we have,” said city spokesman Mike Phillips.


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