San Jose Credit Union Teams With Partners To Participate In Program Offering Discounts On Solar Power Systems

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SAN JOSE, Calif.-San Jose Credit Union is helping members harness the power of the sun with special loan programs.

SJCU is working with participants in the San Jose Employee Solar Group Buy program, which is a partnership between the CU and the city's Solar America City Program. A group of 130 city employees and retirees negotiated the group buy, which allows them to purchase residential solar electric (photovoltaic) and solar thermal systems at a reduced cost. The group discount, in addition to currently available federal tax credits and California Solar Initiative incentives, result in substantial cost savings, the CU said.

Andrea Brewer, CEO of San Jose CU, said the $130-million, 12,000-member credit union was approached by the head of the environmental services department for the City of San Jose, who wanted to organize a group buy of solar systems.

"Because many of the interested city employees also were members of our credit union, (they) asked if we would do loans for people to buy solar at reduced rates," explained Brewer.

The group buy is not an official City of San Jose project, and the credit union did not choose the solar companies involved. Brewer said SJCU's role is offering reduced-rate loans. The most popular product is a fixed-rate second mortgage, which gives members 2% off the best rate the borrower normally would qualify for by credit score.

"Borrowers must have equity for this program, but other financing options are available for those who do not," she told Credit Union Journal.

SunPower Corp. and SunWater Solar, the solar providers chosen for the project, were selected through a competitive bid process by an independent, seven-member volunteer evaluation committee. The two companies will work with participating homeowners to perform site assessments to determine the correct size and design of the photovoltaic and/or solar thermal systems. Installations will take place between September 2010 and February 2011.

The goal of the Solar Group Buy program is to install solar electric and solar thermal systems on more than 130 homes, adding at least 300 kilowatts of new solar electric capacity throughout the Bay Area.

San Jose is one of 25 U.S. cities working with the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar America Cities partnership to accelerate the adoption of solar energy technologies. The program is committed to "developing a sustainable solar infrastructure" that removes market barriers such as the upfront cost of going solar and encourages the adoption of solar energy.

"The group numbers 130 people. Most are CU members and the others are eligible for membership as city employees," Brewer said. "We have received 10 loan applications so far. It is a slow process because people do not apply for loans until after the site inspection, when they are told how much their system will cost. It is a great thing for us to help the city, to help our members-which is where a credit union should be. The city is going to model this program for other cities. It is a good thing for everybody. We are excited about it."

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