Solar Power Rebates and Incentives in California

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If you’re considering making changes to power your home or business with solar power, you’re in luck. If you’re a candidate, you can help California move to a clean energy future while also saving money.

Because California’s renewable portfolio standard requires all utilities in the state to source one-third of their electric generation from renewable resources by 2020, there are many solar incentives out there. They are offered by utilities, the state, counties, and nonprofit organizations.

CleanEnergyAuthority.com has a comprehensive list of the many solar rebates and incentives, which does a particularly good job in showing which counties offer which incentives.

To get you started, here’s the basics of some of the larger programs available state-wide.  

The California Solar Initiative

Established in 2007, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) offers cash back rebates to help you make the switch to solar. The program has a total budget of more than $2 billion, and most of its programs expire at the end of 2016, making now the time to act.

Its general market program provides two types of incentives, one which is ideal for residential and small business projects, and the other which is ideal for larger commercial, government and non-profit projects.  

The amount of CSI rebates varies depending on many factors, such as where you are in the state and the volume of solar megawatts.

Residential and small business projects are given one-time, lump-sum payments upfront, while larger commercial, government and non-profit projects are paid in 60 monthly payments over five years.

More information on the rebates is available on the Go Solar California website.

Am I Eligible? How Do I Apply?

All electric customers of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) are eligible to apply for CSI incentives. Whether you’re a homeowner, a business owner, a local government or a non-profit organization, you can apply.

The day-to-day administrative policy and activities, including application processing and incentive payment, are handled by each of the three utility companies.

Applications are handled through PowerClerk, the CSI Application Portal.

Applicable Solar Technologies

CSI rebates are available for three types of solar technologies:

  • solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies, such as roof-mounted, ground-mounted and building-integrated PV
  • non-PV electric displacing systems, such as solar water heaters, solar space heating, and solar cooling systems
  • non-PV electric generating systems, such as dish sterling, solar troughs, dish and lens, and concentrating solar systems of up to one megawatt.

CSI-Thermal program

There is also a specific program for solar water heating systems. If you’re considering thermal power, the CSI-Thermal portion of the program offers rebates. It has a total budget of $250 million and a goal to install 200,000 new solar hot water systems. Note that the CSI-Thermal portion expires in 2017, rather than in 2016 like other parts of the CSI program.

Other Programs

In addition to the programs offered by CSI, there are many other solar energy initiatives providing incentives to install solar power, such as the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP), the Single Family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) program, and SolarCity’s program for affordable housing.  

New Solar Homes Partnership

Launched in 2007 as part of the CSI, the NSHP aims to help create a self-sustaining market for new energy-efficient solar homes.  It is a 10-year, $400 million program.

To be eligible for a rebate, the home must receive electricity from PG&E, SCE, SDG&E, or Bear Valley Electric Service.

The NSHP targets market-rate and affordable single-family and multifamily homes, with the goal of achieving 360 megawatts of installed solar electric capacity on new homes, and to have solar electric systems on half of all new homes built in California by the end of 2016.

There are four incentive levels available. Incentives are determined by the type of house and the anticipated performance of the solar electric system, which is dependent on a range of factors including equipment efficiency and geographic location.

The incentive is paid when the system is installed, operational, and has met all program requirements.

More information is available on the U.S. Department of Energy website.

Single-family Affordable Solar Homes

The non-profit organization GRID Alternatives provides low- to no-cost solar electric systems to low-income families. Its SASH program offers one up-front, capacity-based incentive of $3 per watt.  

Like the CSI programs, you must receive electrical service from PG&E, SCE, or SDG&E to be eligible. Additionally, your household’s total income must be 80% or less of the Area Median Income.

Visit Go Solar’s website for more information.

Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing

The MASH program provides incentives to offset the cost of installing solar systems on multi tenant affordable housing developments in California. Its goal is to combine energy efficiency and solar PV to help enhance the overall quality of affordable housing.

The MASH program provides incentives to qualifying affordable housing within the service territories of PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E. It provides fixed, up-front, capacity-based incentives for qualifying solar energy systems.

While current funding for the MASH program has been fully subscribed, each utility maintains a waitlist and rebate availability differs depending on the utility service area. Contact your utility for more information.

SolarCity Program for Affordable Housing

While many of the solar energy programs are for property owners, there is a SolarCity service that benefits renters in affordable housing.

Last year, SolarCity launched its service to finance and install solar power systems on rooftops and carports of affordable housing communities. The electricity generated by the system is distributed among the individual homes, and residents receive credit on their utility bills. Ultimately, the program lowers utility costs for both property owners and tenants.  

Whether you’re outfitting your home with solar panels or finding ways to make the switch to solar for your business, there are many programs providing rebates and offering incentives to install solar electric systems in California. Take the time to see what programs you’re eligible for, and then enjoy the financial and environmental benefits of solar energy.

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Sam Alkass is a firm believer in solar power and its valuable impact on the future of our planet. Sam helps others generate their own clean, green energy while minimizing environmental pollution. For more solar news and tips, follow his Facebook.