The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted June 10 to launch a citywide incentive program for rooftop photovoltaic (PV) power generation. With a $3 million annual budget, the initiative will be the largest municipal solar-power effort in the nation to date. Strongly backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and city Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, the program aims to add more than 50 megawatts of solar power generation to the city’s energy supply over 10 years, by boosting the number of solar generating stations to at least 10,000 (a more than tenfold increase from the current 770 installations).

The program is based on direct rebates to offset the cost of installation for building owners who place PV panels on their roofs. Local homeowners can earn payments ranging from $3,000 to $6,000, while businesses that install solar can receive as much as $10,000. Nonprofit affordable-housing providers are eligible for payments as high as $30,000. Said Mayor Newsom in a press release, “This program will ensure San Francisco’s ongoing leadership for providing the opportunity to thousands of residents to economically place solar on their rooftops.”

Even in the favorable California climate, experts say, photovoltaic power isn’t quite ready to compete with conventional power on cost alone. But it is clean, silent, and (once the panels are installed) free—and rebates such as the San Francisco plan can tip the scale, turning the homeowner’s or business owner’s share of the up-front cost into a money-making investment. And if Newsom has his way, San Francisco’s solar experiment won’t stop with the city’s rooftops. The city is reportedly working on plans to put solar panels on the city’s bus-stop shelters—and even on its municipal trash compactors.

Ted Cushman is a contributing editor to BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.