Oakland Local

Bay Area

East Bay Green Business a Success While Alliance May Lose Its Funding

Oakland Local

Solar panels being installed on a home in Oakland.

Oakland is home to 250 green businesses, including large recyclers such as Schnitzer Steel, solar firms like Sungevity and nationally-renowned energy efficiency firms like Lucid Design. Neighboring Berkeley is a hot-bed of green start-ups these days as students at its research labs bring ideas to market.

Green and clean tech business in the Bay Area have been growing at an annual rate of about 5.3 percent, according to the Brookings Institution, and account for about 51,800 jobs, even as the recession checked growth in many other industries.

But in another potential casualty from the loss of state redevelopment funds, the regional agency that has been marketing the East Bay's green business prowess to the nation may lose its revenue stream.

The East Bay Green Corridor is a regional alliance of governments from nine cities stretching from Richmond to Hayward, with Oakland as its center and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and University of California as its innovation engines. But most of the cities in the alliance have been using redevelopment funds to pay their $10,000 annual dues. Now that they are no longer getting those funds, some cities like Albany are questioning if they will continue in the alliance.  

Meanwhile, the Corridor has won part of a federal Department of Energy grant to develop a unified solar photovaltaic permitting process for use in the nine cities.

Oakland has been using public works money to pay its dues, rather than redevelopment money, Steve Lautze, Green Business Projects director with Oakland's Economic Development Division, said. Even so, Oakland's future involvement or at least dues payment also is in question.

"That money that we've been using for corridor dues is arguably more precious than it was," since Oakland lost roughly $28 million in redevelopment funds, Lautze said. "So the city, like others, is going to be evaluating is it worth my investment."  

Penelope Leach, Albany's recreation and community services director said that city's continued involvement is in question. 

Carla Din, executive director and sole staff member of the East Bay Green Corridor, said the organization is moving full steam ahead and doesn't expect the loss of redevelopment funds to cities to stop it.

"In 2011, the Green Corridor provided key resources to 20 startups including location assistance to two young companies that resulted in being located in Emeryville, Halotechnics and in Alameda, Imprint Energy," she said.

Now, she added, the corridor is putting all its focus on developing a regional standardized solar photovaltaic permitting process that could be adopted by all nine cities in the region. The idea behind a unified permit process is to take some of the cost out of solar installations and thus remove some barriers to homeowners and businesses thinking of going solar. 

The East Bay Green Corridor received a $140,000 grant from SolarTech and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the unified solar permitting platform as well as tools for data collection, solutions for addressing a variety of city processes, and recommending policy guidelines.

Din said a unified permit process could help grow the local solar market by reducing costs of installation and increase efficiencies for companies installing the systems. Those efficiencies in turn could allow solar industry to expand in the East Bay and possibly hire more people.

Din said she expects model guidelines to be completed sometime soon and that member cities will take up adoption of these guidelines this spring. Implementation would begin this fall.

"The Green Corridor is serving as a pilot site by contributing data, offering solutions for addressing a variety of city and contractor processes," Din said.

The East Bay Green Corridor received a U.S. Department of Energy grant to develop a model, uniform permitting process that could then be considered elsewhere in the nation.

Source: Oakland Local []

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