PG&E Solar Rebate Flatlines Just as Average Homeowner Hears About it

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The solar rebate in California’s PG&E utility district just dropped yet another step to just $350 per kilowatt installed – 35 cents per watt – dooming new solar homeowners to higher costs today than those who got in while the combination of high CSI incentives (and solar-glut panel prices) cut the cost of doing the right thing.

The California Solar Initiative or CSI rebates are administered through the big three electric utilities in the state. The PG&E rebate initially started at $2, 500 per kilowatt installed, so for example, building a 3 kilowatt system got $7,500 off a few years ago. Now that same 3 KW system will get only $1,050 off.

Technically, all three California utilities that participate in the CSI program are still in Step 7, which provides a rebate of $650 for each KW installed, but in Northern California’s PG&E territory, there are more systems halfway through the approval process than there are approvals left.

PG&E has already put word out to the solar industry that they need to start quoting based on Step 8 rebate levels, because of this. There are still 4.61 MW of solar systems to be approved before the next step down is triggered, but 6.41 MW of systems are already under review.  Even for many people who have not yet got their permit, their rebates will be at the lower Step 8 level of just $350 per KW.

The basis for the California Solar Initiative step down to level 8 incentives is that solar is now mass-market-ready. As someone who works in solar, I disagree.

Most people have had no knowledge that rebates exist. For incentives to work, people must know about them. The average homeowner is only just beginning to hear that there are incentives.

In the 1950’s the whole country watched Walter Cronkite, and saw the same advertising. All the news and advertising was percolated uniformly through society. Now, we are a nation of ignoramuses. Clever ads tell us more and more about the subjects that we previously showed interest in. And that’s just if we don’t block online ads altogether!

Now news actually percolates much MORE slowly in a post-advertising media environment. Advertising online is now completely personalized to the interest of the reader. If you are interested in Britney and Lindsay, you’ll see handbag ads (or may be rehab ads) and you”ll know more about these things.

How sad that just as the news of the PG&E rebate has begun to percolate to the mass market, it is yanked away. Only when Britney gets her CSI rebate will California be ready for a mass market in solar PV.

Image: Lauren Keith
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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