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Published on January 25th, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer


Solar Incentives for Commercial Rooftops Are Used-Up Early in California

January 25th, 2011 by  

The good news is Californians are adding 3 Gigawatts of solar to the grid from rooftops in record time. The bad news is that some of their incentives are consequently running out early.

Since 2006, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) has offered rebates for solar installations, both residential and non-residential, that step down over time.

But the budget ceiling has now just been hit for all non-residential rooftops, according to DSIRE, for Pacific Gas & Electricity and San Diego Gas & Electric customers, and the 10 year solar incentives program will end five years early, instead of in 2016, for these customers. Only Southern California Edison still has non-residential incentives left.

In 2006, with the signing of SB 1, then-Governor Schwarzenegger’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative,  CSI budgeted $3.2 billion to supply 3 Gigawatts of solar to the California grid off of California rooftops in ten years, by 2016, disbursing the rebates through the largest California electric utilities, PG&E and SDG&E, and SCE.

All solar projects are eligible, but with different rates, limits, and steps for residential, commercial and governmental. (Public schools, non-profits or churches, for example, that are not eligible to take a Federal tax credit, get higher rebates.)

The program covers not only PV, but solar for space heating, and rooftop solar thermal used to provide hot water, radiant heat or air conditioning, as long as the technology can meet the requirements of the very thoroughly tested CEC list of eligible solar equipment.

For all the non-residential applicants in PG&E and SDG&E territories, which includes commercial and industrial and governmental and non-profit customers, this ends the popular rebate program. In case some projects drop out, both utilities are accepting some new applications on a waiting list.

Last year, a similar cut-off was threatened in residential rooftop solar projects. The previous limit of “2.5 % of peak power demand” ceiling was in danger of being exceeded, by rooftop solar. After passionate lobbying by solar groups, the limit was raised to allow up to 5% of peak power demand be met by homeowners’ rooftop solar installations.

The commercial program was to have run till 2016. Instead, all the non-residential solar incentives have run out in two of the three main utility districts.

Will there be a last minute save? I am usually contacted before these kinds of dire events by groups like the NRDC or SEIA or Solar Nation. But I have not heard anything about this from them. Have you?

Image: Solar Server

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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  • Although on one hand, especially as a design/install firm, this is terribly bad news- on the other we are doing such a good job California has gone solar and gone solar hard. We should take a second and pat ourselves on the back. Just one, then get back to work.

    • I actually wish they would extend it. I don’t think that it actually is at the tipping point yet. Lots of people are only just finding out about rebates – as they are evaporating!

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  • Syed

    There is this big misunderstanding that the residential and commercial customers are getting solar incentives. Most of the solar systems installed in the California are either leased or PPA. Almost all of the rebates and federal grant went into the pockets of financial institutions and big solar companies who are leasing or doing PPA these solar systems. The people of California did not get these incentives.

    • Syed, you are wrong:”The people of California did not get these incentives”.

      Yes we did. I am a perfect example. The PPAs and leases pass the saving s on: that is how they are cheap.

      I got a PPA through SunRun for my 3.15 KW system which would have been $19,000 with no incentives or tax credits. With the tax credits and rebate from PG&E it would have been something like $12,000.

      With a PPA, you can pay monthly or pay it all upfront for 18 years of power. I chose that at 12 cents kwh to SunRun (which includes insurance, repairs, maintenance and inverter replacement when needed) Personally I chose to do it that way (pay all at once,) because I am uncertain about our financial future long term at our age, plus right now, we can’t use the fed tax credit so it would not have been as good a deal – but most people prefer the monthly payments because they are still much less than PG&E.

      (Before solar, I was paying 29 cents a kwh to PG&E, so I get power for less than half that now. I still pay a little to PG&E, like $4-$9 a month, but used to pay $130).

      The reason SunRun could offer my $19,000 system to me at $10,000 is that they were taking the fed tax credit and the rebate. So the money side comes out the same. (But people are free to pay upfront or with a bank loan too.)

      Sadly, the rebates are now negligible anyway, only a few hundred off on a system. But that is the way CSI set it up. That as more people adopted it, the incentive stepped down.

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