Berkeley’s City Council this week authorized the use of municipal bond financing to help homeowners install solar panels on their homes.

The famously liberal Bay Area city plans to create a community facilities district that homeowners would have the option of joining to finance the solar installations.

A special tax assessment against participating properties would back taxable bonds, according to a staff report prepared for the council. The tax assessment would remain with the property even if a house were sold.

“The financing mechanism is based on similar special tax financing authorized under the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982 and, functionally, is no different than the assessment districts previously formed by the city to finance utility undergrounding,” the report said.

Among the actions taken by the City Council Tuesday was the authorization of up to $80 million in bond debt.

“The proposed maximum bonded debt is based on a generous estimate of how much debt could be issued, rather than how much will likely be issued,” the report said.

The number is based on a study that found up to 4,000 homes in Berkley could benefit from a rooftop solar installation, which might cost about $20,000 each.

“While staff does not expect that all 4,000 homeowners will take advantage of this program, staff does think it is a rational basis to establish a cap for the bonded indebtedness,” the report said.

City staff continues to meet with commercial banks, community banks, and private investment firms to find a financial partner, the report said.

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