San Francisco may soon have the country's most stringent environmental building standards. Under a plan endorsed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and almost guaranteed to be approved by the Board of Supervisors, the city would require all new residential buildings over 75 feet tall, all new commercial buildings of more than 5,000 square feet, and renovations to any building of at least 25,000 square feet to meet minimum LEED standards established by the United States Green Building Council (see Environment Watch, Page 3).

"We've got to stop playing within the margins and get serious about addressing our reliance on fossil fuels," Newsom said in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, during the first half of the year, San Francisco is likely to adopt solar panel installation incentives worth $3,000 to $5,000 per residence, and up to $10,000 per business. While other cities, including Los Angeles, offer larger incentives, San Francisco property owners are also eligible for Pacific Gas & Electric solar incentives of up to $8,900 for residents and $10,000 for businesses. The combined incentives would cover roughly half the $30,000 the cost of a three-kilowatt solar system.

California's "million solar roofs initiative" that gained so much attention when Gov. Schwarzenegger signed it in 2006 appears to have had something of a rough first full year. The California Solar Initiative program is supposed to result in 3,000 megawatts of new solar-produced electricity by 2017. Through the first nine months of 2007, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) received more than 5,000 commercial and residential applications for a total of 160 megawatts of new solar power. The PUC has cast the figure positively, saying it demonstrates "enormous new interest in solar."

Critics, however, note that the megawatts reserved through the applications are not the same as megawatts actually generated. A number of applicants dropped out of the program during processing, and new installations were generating less than 10% of the 160 megawatts in applications.

Consulting firm SunCentric called the results of the program "extremely disappointing" and said the PUC's switch to a new way of awarding incentives to solar system owners has been a "nightmare." SunCentric and others noted that the number of residential installations fell sharply during 2007. Apparently recognizing that problems existed, the PUC has streamlined some aspects of the program and, based on new legislation, altered rate structures.

The Oakland Planning Commission in December approved what would be one of the largest LEED-certified buildings in state — a 23-story downtown office tower. Besides a number of environmentally friendly construction materials and techniques, the 500,000-square-foot tower will be right next to a BART station, and will feature bicycle lockers as well as showers for tenants.

Covering the entire block bounded by 11th and 12th Streets, Jefferson Street and Marin Luther King Jr. Way, the tower will be one of the tallest in the Oakland skyline. Retail space is planned for the ground floor, and an underground lot will hold 200 cars. The project is a joint venture of Shorenstein Properties and MetLife Real Estate Investments.