Cities offer cash, perks to entice
residents to go green
Dec 27, 2007 - Brian Skoloff - The
Free hybrid car parking. Cash rebates
for solar panel installations. Low-interest loans
for energy-efficient home renovations. Tearing up
that water-thirsty lawn in the parched Southwest?
The check's in the mail, courtesy of a city government.
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. The United States is the
only major industrial country to have rejected the
Kyoto Protocol, which requires international greenhouse
gas reductions. More than 700 cities, however, have
signed a U.S. Conference of Mayors document pledging
to try to meet Kyoto targets.
In Parkland, where the motto is "Environmentally
Proud," the city plans next year to begin offering
a package of cash rebates to its 25,000 residents
for being more environmentally friendly.
"We will literally issue them a check,"
said Parkland 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 brand brings
$100. Buying a hybrid car? Another $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,
no small change in times of tight budgets.
But for Moskowitz, it's the principle
not the payout that matters.
"The gain to the city and the residents
is to improve the environment. That's what we get,"
Moskowitz said. "Could this bankrupt the city if the
program grows by leaps and bounds? 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
Utilities have long provided incentives
to purchase energy-efficient appliances, solar panels
and toilets that use less water. The federal government,
too, offers tax incentives for purchases of many hybrid
vehicles and energy-saving products.
Still, for many cities, it's just not
"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 up to $5,000 rebates off the price
of 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,
The city will also cover up to 90 percent
of costs associated with making multifamily dwellings
like apartment buildings more energy efficient, and
will pay residents $150 to replace old appliances
with ones that meet federal energy-saving standards.
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.
Baltimore offers a minimum $2,000 grant
toward closing costs on new home purchases within
the vicinity of a resident's employer under the city's
"Live Near Your Work" program.
"Just living near your job and taking
transit or walking to meet your daily needs provides
basically the same environmental benefit as buying
a hybrid car," said Amanda Eaken of the Natural Resources
Defense Council, an environmental group.
Residents of Albuquerque, N.M., get
fast-track building permits and other perks if they
agree to make their homes more energy-efficient.
"Our actions are influencing our climate,"
said John Soladay, the city's sustainability officer.
"The action has to take place locally."
In Arizona, many cities pay residents
to replace grass with artificial turf or plants that
use less water. Scottsdale, outside Phoenix, will
pay its citizens up to $1,500.
"The overriding motivation is principle,"
said city spokesman Mike Phillips. "We're in the middle
of a desert and water is absolutely the most precious
resource we have."
Glendale, another Phoenix suburb, has
spent about $500,000 over the past two decades helping
pay to replace homeowners' lawns and gardens, bringing
an estimated savings of a million gallons of water
The movement began with cities "greening"
their own operations, switching to natural gas buses,
installing energy-efficient light bulbs in administration
buildings and leading by example.
Mayors then looked to businesses to
do their part, offering enticements and tax breaks
to reduce their carbon footprint. Now they're encouraging
"There's a lot of policies now that
are really starting to focus on residential," said
Jason Hartke, director of advocacy for the U.S. Green
Building Council. "And a lot of localities recognize
they're going to get a lot more done using carrots
and incentives rather than regulatory means."
Steve Morgan, vice president of the
environmental consulting firm Clean Energy Solutions
Inc., said that local efforts, while "noble," are
no substitute for federal action.
"I applaud it," he said, "but it's
just the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done."