Integrated Power Corp., or iPower, in Novato recently signed on with affordable housing developer Urban Housing Communities to design and install solar energy systems in many of its 17 current and proposed housing projects throughout the state.
Low-income tax credits, combined with state and federal solar tax credits, are bringing solar systems to people who never could have afforded them otherwise.
Forward-looking solar companies like iPower along with Borrego Solar of Berkeley and San Diego recognize a great potential market in low-income housing, as investors are attracted to tax breaks and rebates.
“IPower has been an excellent consultant to us in developing these systems,” said Mark Irving, director of land planning and entitlement for Urban Housing Communities, a partner of Morgan Stanley.
“In addition to the favorable financial aspect, the systems bring down operating expenses significantly, helping to keep rental fees affordable.”
In Novato, iPower recently designed a solar system for City Hall, a challenge because of the historic and iconic status of the building, which was erected in the late 1890s.
The solar system was integrated into the steep, sloping roof by using solar roofing materials, in this case shingles.
“The City Council was interested in a solar component to the upgrade,” said Andrew Butt of Interactive Resources, the architectural firm overseeing the project.
“The downside is a slightly less powerful system than with traditional panels, but the system blends seamlessly with the building,” he said.
According to iPower President Eric Pollock, the length of a roof warranty and a solar system warranty are the same, about 20 years.
“The cost of the solar component is comparable to other solar systems, with the difference that this one comes with a new roof included,” he said.
Another Novato solar company, SPG Solar completed the first solar system installation for a major motion picture theater in the U.S. Fairfax Five Theatres, built in 1952, now offsets 36 percent of its electric costs with a 31.5 kilowatt solar PV system.
Dave Corkill, founder of the Cinema West motion picture chain that has owned and operated the Fairfax Five Theatres for more than 13 years, has also turned it into Marin’s first all-digital projection theater.
“I know the town of Fairfax wholeheartedly welcomes this solar system. The theater is a landmark of downtown Fairfax. To have it be a display of environmental leadership represents the town’s social awareness and progressiveness,” he said.
Since completing the Fairfax system, Cinema West has put an even larger solar array on its Livermore Cinemas. A similar system is slated for the Boulevard Cinemas in Petaluma for later this year.
In Ukiah, The Solar Living Institute, a 10-year-old offshoot of the Real Goods Trading Co., partnered with the city to develop a state-of-the-art, hands-on training program. More than 2,000 are expected to enroll each year in Ukiah Greenworks to learn about photovoltaics, solar water heating and other renewable-energy job skills.
The Solar Living Institute promotes sustainable living through workshops on biodynamic gardening, electric-vehicle conversion and even raising goats and chickens. But increasingly its focus is on solar.