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!
We’ve noticed some considerable hubub about the new solar mapping tool Google has been rolling out to cities across the country called Project Sunroof. Property owners can happily plug in their address, see a glowing image of their home showing the solar potential of their roof, the cost savings over time with a solar array, and a short list of installers ready to start you on a path to solar savings today!
What much of the media have failed to report however, is that solar maps are not a new technology and Google is not in it for some warm fuzzy benefits-to-the-world reasons. Google, in partnership with solar installation giants, are succeeding in cornering growing solar interest with property owners who don’t know where to find accurate information. Obviously as a household name anything Google does gets much more marketing attention than anything any municipal program can get. But I’m here to tell you solar mapping tools have been around since 2008, starting in San Fransisco, and are now active in over 18 cities across the country. The following are some of the free (and objective) mapping tools available:
In addition, a solar mapping tool developed by MIT called MapDwell covers Boston, Boulder, Cambridge, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Washington DC, and Wellfleet, Massachusetts. To that point, it would have been nice if Google had invested in one of the numerous start ups already working in the solar mapping world.
The purpose of a solar map is to promote greater public awareness about solar energy, enable consumers to discover the solar potential of their properties, facilitate increased solar usage in communities, and track community renewable energy goals. They are generally user-friendly and interactive, generate immediate results, and can provide all sorts of valuable resources. They use topographical data combined with historical meteorological data to magically estimate the solar potential of any particular address in the map’s database by taking into account the impacts of shading obstructions, roof tilt, and the amount of roof area that can be used for solar. Some mapping tools also include a myriad of locally relevant resources such as incentive calculators, records on existing solar installations in the area, and links to local installers. This provides a great initial assessment for a property owner to start understanding whether solar is a good investment for them. (However, be aware that many assumptions go into solar mapping and 100% accuracy cannot be guaranteed.)
Google states that their “intent is to streamline the screening process for rooftop solar and reduce the costs to installers of evaluations for sites without potential.” But so far they have only partnered with solar giants Vivint Solar, Verengo Solar, Sungevitiy, etc. These are all national solar companies who often push lease contracts. (Here at Run on Sun we often refer to them as financial institutions as opposed to solar companies for this reason.) When you plug in your address into Project Sunroof and get a list of “solar providers in your area” its limited to these companies partnering with Google.
So I did an experiment. I hadn’t heard whether Google had rolled out in LA yet so I input a local address in their tool for Pasadena, CA. Low and behold a beautiful image appeared and my report steered me to the installation companies I just mentioned as well as a third party lead generation site. So I emailed them to see if Run on Sun could join the ranks and be included in this list of local installers. This is the automated response that came back:
Thank you for your interest in Project Sunroof. We are running a pilot in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno (in central California), the Boston area, Sacramento and Long Island for now. We’re not currently adding new partners, but we may contact you once we have plans to expand partnerships in your area.
So it appears that Google’s site is in fact working in our area and our clients are being referred to these financial solar behemoths rather than any of the local companies with local expertise and honest business practices. Perhaps they will get around to expanding their site in our area and open up to other installers… but something tells me not to hold my breath. In the meantime we will continue to direct property owners interested in solar to check LA County’s Solar Map for their initial solar prospecting.
Let me just add briefly that Google’s tool is going to be more polished than many of the other municipality-managed tools. That is a given. Google’s growing involvement in the solar world will also have many benefits; mostly in growing general awareness about solar energy. From our perspective as a small installer we would just hope that a large entity like Google, who supposedly claim objectivity in the services they provide the connected world, would avoid solely promoting partners with deep pockets and masking it as providing local listings to consumers.
There can be no doubt, 2015 was an amazing year for solar. As we reach the end of the year, here’s our look back on the top five reasons solar soared in 2015!
While not the most important reason for solar overall, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that thanks to our wonderful clients, 2015 was our best year by far! From our largest project ever for our favorite water company, to adding another school to our portfolio, to the many residential projects that we built all across Southern California, 2015 was a great year.
We took great pride in being recognized, for the third year in a row, as being one of the top Solar Contractors in the country by the wonderful folks at Solar Power World, and even more pride in the scores of referrals that we received from our ecstatic clients.
We can’t wait to meet and exceed our success this past year in the New Year ahead!
Political leadership on dealing with Climate Change was finally in evidence this year, and the resultant policies are, inevitably, pro-solar. Exhibit A was California Governor Jerry Brown pledging to have the state generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, a mere fifteen years away! Said the Governor:
I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.
We are on board with that!
But political leadership extended far beyond the borders of our great state in 2015! More than 190 countries came together in Paris to agree to the most far-reaching accord ever to address Climate Change, and lots more solar was high on their list of ways to achieve a more sustainable planet.
To be sure, none of these actions were without their political opponents, but it is impossible to deny that 2015 marked a major turning point in the public’s perception of the need to act, and those views were increasingly adopted by the world’s politicians.
Ok, we have to give the man his due — Elon Musk’s outlandish PowerWall announcement changed the conversation around smart energy storage (and our blog post debunking his most outrageous claims became our most viewed post of the year!). Indeed, storage went from being a topic hardly ever mentioned by a potential client, to something that nearly everyone did after Elon did his thing.
Unfortunately, the hype still leads the market, and mature products are still not really available. But that is changing rapidly, and from our perspective that can’t happen soon enough.
There had been great angst in the solar community about the future of net metering — the means by which solar owners get compensated for excess energy that they put out onto the grid — in California (and elsewhere). Decisions about net metering in other states that bent over backwards to appease utility demands only ratcheted up the anxiety in California as the state’s Public Utilities Commission deliberated over competing proposals for Net Metering 2.0 - including utility schemes that could have gutted the market for solar.
Fortunately our fears were not realized and the preliminary decision — due to be made final in January — was quite solar friendly. Once we have a final decision we will report on it in depth, but for now this looks like one of the biggest pro-solar developments of 2015.
The number one, most amazing, and most amazingly unexpected development to boost solar in 2015 is unquestionably the major extension of the 30% federal solar investment tax credit (ITC).
Given that the ITC was previously scheduled to expire at the end of 2016, solar installers, potential clients, utilities, and building departments alike were all bracing for what could have been a hellish second half of next year as all involved scrambled to get systems commissioned before the deadline.
Instead, the full 30% will continue through 2019, 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and 10% thereafter. Moreover, the “placed in service” language — which required a project to be commissioned before the credit could be claimed, thereby leaving installers and clients at the not-so-tender mercies of the local utility — was replaced by the far more manageable, “commenced construction” requirement.
The net benefit of this will be a more orderly market, driven by rational purchasing decisions rather than a panicked stampede to meet an arbitrary deadline at the end of next year. And beyond that, keeping the ITC in place for many years to come will help to grow solar in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. The industry, the economy, and the environment were all winners here.
So that’s our wrap on 2015 — truly a great year for solar! But we are betting that 2016 — with your help, of course — will be even better! Watch this space!
Happy New Year!
Today is a great day for solar! The uncertainty around the ITC (federal solar tax credit) is finally over and we can all rest assured that the solar industry will not fall off a cliff come December 31, 2016!
You may have heard the big news about the bipartisan passing of the year-end budget deal to effectively not shut down the government for one more year. But you may have missed the news that they also passed a 1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill including the extension of many tax credits. Guess which exciting tax credit was included?? That’s right, the solar ITC and other renewable energy tax credits were included in HR 2029. The spending bill is the result of a deal between party leaders. The unfortunate cost of the five-year extension (and other Democratic priorities) is the lifting of the 40-year-old oil export ban and a series of permanent tax cuts.
This morning HR 2029 passed the US House of Representatives (316-113) and the US Senate (65-33). This means that the Omnibus funding bill goes to the President for his final signature, which he has already agreed to do. This is a great day for the solar industry, living-wage American jobs, the growth of clean power and all the policy advocates out there fighting to extend the ITC.
Here are the details regarding the new extension of the solar tax credit:
“We commend members of Congress in both parties for taking this bold step and we look forward to delivering on the promise that this policy now offers all Americans. Thanks to the ITC, solar energy will add 220,000 new jobs by 2020, and with this extension, the solar industry can achieve its pledge of employing 50,000 veterans. Clean solar energy will cut emissions by 100 million metric tons and replace dozens of dirty power plants.
Importantly, in the follow up to the Paris accord, this establishes the United States as a model for the reduction of greenhouse gases. A five-year extension of the ITC will lead to more than $133 billion in new, private sector investment in the U.S. economy by 2020. And much of this growth will come from small businesses, which make up more than 85% of America’s 8,000 solar companies.
Solar power in this nation will more than triple by 2020, hitting 100 GW. That’s enough to power 20 million homes and represents 3.5% of U.S. electricity generation.”
Today we celebrate the progress our country has made. We know the tax extension will only serve to help more and more property owners take advantage of all the benefits of solar energy. Happy Friday and Happy Holidays everyone!!
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