The new year is well underway (Happy New Year!), and so it is timely to revisit the question of financial incentives to Go Solar in the Run on Sun service area. (You can read more detail about all of these incentives on our Solar Financing page.)
Beyond a doubt, the most significant incentive for going solar is the 30% federal tax credit. Previously set to expire at the end of this year, the federal solar tax credit was extended late last year, continuing at the present 30% through 2019.
The credit applies to solar installations in every utility’s territory, so no matter where you live in the U.S., this credit applies to you. (NB: this is a tax credit, not an income deduction, so you need the tax “appetite” to take full advantage of this incentive - check with your tax advisor.) For residential clients, the basis for the credit is the full cost of your solar project, less any rebate that you might receive from the utility. Commercial clients, who must declare any rebate as income, do not need to deduct their rebate from the system cost when calculating the basis.
Once common everywhere, utility rebates are going the way of the dodo—with one or two notable exceptions. We have rank ordered the local utilities below, based on the reliability of their rebate program.
The big winner, again and by far, is the solar rebate program operated by our own Pasadena Water and Power. Year in and year out, PWP offers rebates to its customers in a transparent and consistent manner - something that cannot be said of any of its neighboring utilities.
As of this writing, PWP is offering a rebate of $0.45/Watt for both residential and commercial customers, and a rebate of $0.90/Watt to non-profit customers (who cannot take advantage of the federal tax credit). Alternatively, PWP also offers a performance-based incentive that is paid out over two years based on the actual production of the system. Residential and commercial customers are paid 14.4¢/kWh, whereas non-profit customers are paid 28.8¢/kWh.
LADWP offers a rebate, if you have the stamina to receive it. Vexed with the most bureaucratic process to be found this side of Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, applying for and receiving a rebate from DWP often feels like a reward for a life well spent.
That said, LADWP is currently offering rebates of $0.30/Watt to residential customers, $0.40/Watt to commercial, and $1.15/Watt to non-profits. Just don’t hold your breath.
These two municipal utilities often feel like one and the same given their similar approach to rebates - which is to say, now you see ‘em, no you don’t.
Unlike their neighbor to the east, neither BWP nor GWP is able to maintain a rebate program throughout the year. Instead, both open their rebate windows on or about July 1st (i.e., the start of their fiscal year) and then hand out money until it is gone, at which time the window slams shut until the following July 1.
Burbank’s program operates under a lottery, which last year opened on July 1 and was exhausted by August 15. In addition, BWP imposes restrictions on the azimuth and pitch of rebated systems, despite their being no technical justification for doing so.
Glendale’s program is even less transparent, and the installation/rebate process is outlined in a 23-step ode to inefficiency.
We will revisit both of these program in mid-June to provide what guidance we can to the residents of these two cities.
The “Solar Partnership Program” in Azusa is fully subscribed. There is a wait list that solar-hopeful customers can get on in the hope that at some point there will be rebate funds available - with no guarantees that there ever will be.
The Anaheim Solar Incentive Program was fully subscribed as of October 1, 2015 and is now closed, with no published plans to revise the program in the future.
SCE’s rebates, which were part of the larger, California Solar Initiative, have expired and no new funds are anticipated. Of course, SCE customers still have the highest electricity rates around, which provides its own—albeit perverse—incentive to Go Solar!
Solar rebates are rapidly becoming an endangered species, but there are still a handful of refuges out there for the lucky few who reside in those areas. Here is our update on who is offering what as of January, 2015.
Although there are lots of ways to approach this, we figured that the most entertaining would be to rank-order each utility in the Run on Sun service area from best to worst in terms of their rebate program (and we will toss in a handy summary chart at the end).
Beyond a doubt, the best run solar rebate program in our service area is provided by our hometown utility, Pasadena Water & Power. The folks at PWP have figured out how to provide generous rebates on a predictable schedule while keeping bureaucratic annoyances to a minimum. Boy could its neighbors learn a thing or two from PWP!
Here are their numbers as of today:
Residential: $0.85/Watt EPBB; 12.9¢/kWh PBI.
Commercial: $0.85/Watt EPBB; 12.9¢/kWh PBI.
Non-Profit: $1.60/Watt EPBB; 24.2¢/kWh PBI.
Keep in mind, those numbers have been in place for a long time (since 2012!) and we expect them to drop some time this year.
Anaheim is offering some big rebate numbers, but they offer a ridiculously small window of opportunity for snagging them. Specifically, the window is about to open and you need to submit a rebate application between today, January 15, 2015 and two weeks from today as the window closes on January 29! After that you are out-of-luck until the next window is set. For those who can jump on the opportunity, here are the numbers:
Residential: $1.25/Watt EPBB; n/a PBI.
Commercial: $1.10/Watt EPBB; 11.0¢/kWh PBI.
Which brings us to the problem children…
Azusa has a rebate program, maybe. But what it really has as of now is a waiting list. Good luck with that.
Burbank and Glendale feel like the same city so its not surprising that their local utilities seem to act in lock step. Both utilities arguably offer rebates, but unlike PWP - their more intelligent neighbor to the East - neither BWP nor GWP can figure out how to keep a rebate program open for more than a few weeks (days?) at a time. They say they are victims of their own success, but we see it as a sign of bad planning. (Oh, and don’t get us started about GWP’s alleged Feed-in Tariff program which after a year and a half is yet to have a single application submitted! Genius!)
As for now, all the unfortunate residents of these two communities can do is wait until the new fiscal year in July and hope that some funds will be allocated.
In SCE territory the party is officially over - there are no more rebate funds available, and despite the Governor’s call for 50% of electricity to come from renewables by 2030, there are no moves a foot to refund the CSI program. This is unfortunate beyond the lack of funding - with the demise of the CSI rebates, so goes the CSI data since that was only gathered as part of the rebate process. As a result, we lose a major solar incentive along with a major source of market data for the largest solar market in the country! More genius! (Here’s a thought - since SCE still requires us to go through the interconnection agreement process - via email - why not collect the data that way?)
LADWP offers a rebate, but they have the most excruciating process ever for getting it. (Think of that wealthy Uncle who could easily help you out, but is going to make you bow and scrape before he cuts loose with some ducats, and you get the picture.) Moreover, non-residential rebates are going away in favor of the Feed-in Tariff program, but for small commercial or non-profit customers, that option simply doesn’t pencil out.
For those residential customers with the patience to outlast the bureaucrats, here’s their rebate:
Residential: $0.40/Watt EPBB; n/a PBI.
Frankly, that’s just not worth the trouble.
So here’s the overall results for all of these utilities:
While rebates are going away, the 30% federal tax credit is still in place, and will continue through the end of 2016. Carpe diem!
Last week LADWP responded to its critics by announcing major changes in how its solar program works. In a widely distributed press release, LADWP said its actions were “aimed at reducing delays, streamlining the program, and increasing transparency." Or in other words, providing participants with some hope that one of the most difficult jurisdictions in which to install solar might finally have a chance to live up to its potential. Here’s our take.
There can be no doubt that LADWP is in serious need of improving how its solar program works. Indeed, earlier this month we wrote a piece about Why “Soft Costs” are so Hard (particularly in LADWP territory) and in January we wrote in LA: Where Good News goes to Die, how the LA Department of Building and Safety insisted upon adding their own, entirely redundant, testing regime on new solar products, thereby delaying their introduction in the City, even though those products were UL listed and approved for use everywhere else in the State of California by the California Energy Commission.
At the time we appealed to LA’s new major to fix this:
We suspect that the Garcetti Administration could make this go away tomorrow—so why don’t they? Given the Mayor’s claim to green cred, why not call a meeting with appropriate stakeholders: installers (including small installers), manufacturers, and department heads and lets cut through this unnecessary nonsense and make it easier to install rooftop solar in the biggest city in the biggest solar market in the country. It’s about time.
Now we have no idea whether anyone at LA City Hall reads this blog, and we are certainly not the only folks who have been speaking out about the problems in LA, but last week’s announcement does appear to have picked up on these themes. Here’s how LADWP’s new General Manager framed the issue:
“We recognize that our solar customers have become frustrated with longer than normal response times and the challenges of navigating through the application, review, inspection and rebate processes to receive the incentives and turn on their solar systems,” said LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards. “We want to make it easier for customers to go solar so they can benefit from the city’s abundant sunshine by controlling a portion of their electricity costs, while helping to green the grid.”
To which we say, bravo, but the devil is in the details.
So what exactly is LADWP promising to do? Quite a bit, apparently, including (from the press release):
- Doubling the number of staff to expedite processing applications and issuing rebate checks.
- Hiring new staff members on a permanent basis to improve response times to hotline calls
- Streamlining the lease application review process
These are all good steps, but if folks who are brought in to review applications don’t understand what they are reviewing, then simply having more bodies will not improve the process. Maybe DWP could bring some actual installers into the training process. Why not pay them to sit down with your new hires and go over the materials being submitted via PowerClerk so that there could be a better understanding of what those materials mean? I’m guessing you could get some volunteers to assist with this process, for a price, and that would improve things for everyone.
In any event, to help increase the transparency of these efforts, DWP is also creating what they are calling “two Mayor’s Dashboards to keep customers informed of the progress and improvements” to the program. These dashboards are to be updated weekly—here is a portion of the dashboard as of March 24:
This shows that the delay in getting a rebate reservation reviewed is presently two months or 56 days—which would in and of itself be a significant improvement on the 78 days we recently endured. By the end of April, DWP is hoping to shave another week off of that and by the end of May to have cut it all the way down to just three weeks, which would bring DWP in line with its neighbors in SCE territory.
Unfortunately for those unhappy customers awaiting a rebate, your delays will get worse before they get better, with payments taking a full quarter of a year by the end of April. Ouch.
The announcement was not confined to just improvements at LADWP, apparently Building and Safety is also getting into the act. Again, from the press release:
Concurrently with efforts being made at LADWP, the solar permitting process at the Department of Building and Safety is being streamlined and simplified, with the vast majority of residential permits soon to be available online and additional training of field inspectors to deliver consistent and timely customer service.
These efforts are expected to save solar installers – and their customers – hundreds of dollars on solar PV systems by reducing trips to DBS for simple permits and ensuring that inspection issues are dealt with promptly. As this streamlining process moves forward, DBS will work with industry stakeholders to continuously deal with the introduction of new technologies in this rapidly evolving sector.
Heavens, be still my heart! Who knows, perhaps someday soon we will be able to skip the whole, “LA has to test everything itself just because it can,” phase and be allowed to deploy best-in-class technology as those products become available on the CEC list—just like we now can in every other jurisdiction. (Along those lines we have heard that the Enphase M250 has been approved and that the final certification should issue shortly. Finally.)
All and all, these are very encouraging noises coming from the City of Angels, and we can only hope at this stage that positive changes will match the promising rhetoric. We will be waiting to see… watch this space.
Everyone in the solar industry is focused on soft costs—that is all the extra expenses that are rolled into the cost of installing a solar power system. Since prices for solar modules have dropped to below a dollar/Watt, the percentage of an overall system price consumed by soft costs continues to increase. But soft costs are really hard to reduce and we just had a painful example to help drive that point home.
One of the most pernicious of the soft costs are those associated with getting approvals from the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) over the project. That includes both the utility that must approve any rebate application and interconnection agreement, as well as the local building and safety department which must issue the permit and inspect the project. The requirements for approving a solar power system vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and that lack of standardization—combined with just plain arbitrariness that runs rampant in some places—means long, pointless delays in moving projects forward.
We are working on a medium-sized residential project in Los Angeles. If we were doing this in Pasadena, it would be installed by now, but as everyone knows, LA isn’t Pasadena. We submitted the requested materials for reserving the rebate on this project on December 3 of last year and then sat back while we waited to hear from them. Weeks went by without a peep—while we reassured our client that we would update them as soon as we heard something.
Then, finally, we did. On February 19th, seventy-eight days after we submitted the application, we got an email telling us that the application was “incomplete” and that:
If you fail to submit the requested documentation by the above date your incentive application will be subject to cancellation without further notice.
(It really was in red type.) How long did they give us to respond? Two weeks. In other words, we get less than one fifth of the time that LADWP took to, in its sole discretion, identify “deficiencies", to cure those deficiencies.
If that wasn’t bad enough, LADWP adds insult to injury by sending a copy of the “deficiency” email to the client! Pity the poor client—they have picked a contractor, signed a bunch of paperwork, and made a down payment, all months ago with nothing to show for it, and then they get an email that suggests for all the world that their contractor has botched things and their project is about to go south! How helpful.
So now the contractor has to spend time reassuring the client that despite the dire tone of the email, everything will be ok. Then you spend more time addressing the “deficiencies” that have caused all the ruckus in the first place.
I won’t bore you with the entire litany of nonsense that we were asked to cure, but my favorite one was this: when you submit information about the system online, you are supposed to show the cost of modules, the cost of the inverter(s) and the balance of system (BoS) costs. You are also required to submit a copy of your contract for the sale. This we did. But they complained that the contract price and the system price entered online did not agree. Now here’s the thing, once you submit the rebate application to LADWP you can no longer see those details, so the contractor has no way to know where this “error” came from. So, with no other options, you tell them that the contract is the controlling document as to the system cost so they should use that.
Instead, they send out yet another email, this time with the scary heading: “FINAL NOTICE” (yes, all in caps) with the following declaration:
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has received your Solar Incentive Program application, and it is still incomplete.
And yes, they send a copy of this email to your client as well.
Now if they had actually read the contract they would have understood that the discrepancy is due to the rebate amount itself. Online, the total cost reflects the price before rebate. But because we front the rebate for our client, the contract price is net of the rebate amount. (The contract itself spells that all out, of course, but then LADWP would have to actually read the contract.) We thought about explaining this before coming to our senses and realizing that was a lost cause. Instead, we created a letter requesting that they modify the online data to reduce the BoS amount by the rebate, and uploaded that to their system. Voila, just like that, they reserved the rebate.
By my count, it took eight emails to get this resolved.
Just about everything about this interaction is wrong. The delay in the initial contact is wrong. The tone of the email sent out is wrong. The absurd disparity between the timing LADWP allows itself versus that to the contractor is wrong. And the lack of understanding of what they are reviewing is infuriatingly wrong. It builds in delays and costs to deal with those delays. It is what makes soft costs so damn hard.
It needs to change.
Solar rebates are fleeting in many locations—now you see them, now you don’t. Case in point, Burbank Water and Power (as is the case with its cousin in Glendale) is notorious for offering, and then taking away solar rebates. We monitor BWP’s website for new developments, and we have now learned that they will be holding a lottery for possible rebate funds next July. No additional details were made available; presumably they will be posted sometime in June.
Given that development, we decided to update our overall rebate status. Here is how things stand generally in the Run on Sun service area as of this date:
|Utility||EPBB ($/Watt)||PBI (¢/kWh)|
|(Click to see website)||Residential||Commercial||Non-Profit||Residential||Commercial||Non-Profit|
|Anaheim||Unavailable until June, 2014||Unavailable until June, 2014|
|Azusa||Wait List||Wait List|
|Burbank (BWP)||Lottery in July, 2014||Lottery in July, 2014 (30 kW or less)|
|Glendale (GWP)||Unavailable until 7/1/2014||Unavailable until 7/1/2014|
|Los Angeles (LADWP)||$0.40||$0.70||$1.45||Not used|
|SoCal Edison (SCE)||$0.20||$0.25||$0.90||2.5¢||3.2¢||11.4¢|
Here are a couple of very important qualifications to what appears in that table:
This is a moving target; watch this space.
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