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A new rebate offered by a private solar installation company has inspired Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) to look into having panels installed on his own home on the near Eastside.
“The price is right,” Warrick said during a lunchtime discussion with industry and community stakeholders on Monday.
Advanced Solar will double CPS Energy‘s rebate of $1 per watt for its installations until the public rebate is phased out. The rebate is open to all homeowners in Districts 1-5, which have some of the lowest income zip codes in the city, and any home in San Antonio worth less than $100,000. Most of the privately installed residential solar arrays can be found on the city’s wealthier Northside, so Advanced Solar designed its rebate to encourage lower-income families to consider going solar as well.
“We’re not reaching the lower-income people. At one point there was a commentary that (solar) was a subsidy for the rich,” said Advanced Solar CEO Don Dickey. “(But) it’s very much a middle-income product” when financed properly.
Those interested in signing up for the rebate program, which is not associated with CPS Energy, can find details on Advanced Solar’s website or by calling 210-556-1399.
Added to the local and federal rebate, the Advanced Solar rebate brings the total cost of an average-sized 4.3 kilowatt residential solar array from upward of $15,000 down to $5,822.
Solar is a “blip on the radar screen” in terms of electricity generation compared to other non-renewable sources of energy, Dickey said. “But it makes such an impact when it comes to adding jobs.”
Dickey credits the solar rebates that CPS Energy distributed through the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP), which will obviate the need for another 771 megawatt power plant by 2020 by incentivizing alternative energy and energy efficiencies in residential and commercial buildings, as a catalyst for the solar industry growth. Several solar companies, from manufacturers to installers, have moved to town or opened up shop.
“When the STEP program first came about, there was no solar industry per se,” he said, noting that the cost equipment ran about $10 per watt. “Today it’s $3 a watt.”
The goal of Monday’s meeting was to kick off community awareness efforts with the help of contacts in City Hall, chambers of commerce, and others.
The average up-front price tag of $5,822 is still intimidating to most middle-class families, said Advanced Solar Director of Project Development Ben Rodriguez. That’s where financing comes in.
“You pick a year and we can get you financed for that amount of time,” Rodriguez said. The longer a homeowner takes to pay back the total, the lower the monthly payments – so the savings on an electricity are realized sooner. However, it will take longer to pay off the system and, depending on interest rates, be more expensive in the long run.
Advanced Solar is able to offer the rebate thanks in part to bulk cost reduction from panel suppliers Suniva and Hanwha, Dickey said. The company anticipates giving the rebate to about 500 homeowners and will consider extending the rebate program if CPS Energy extends its own as well.
“(CPS should) not leave an industry hanging that they essentially gave birth to,” Dickey said of the utility’s STEP funding, which has reallocated money from other rebate/incentive programs to solar several times. In February, it shifted $30 million for solar to phase out the per-watt payout. The last $10 million will have an $0.80 per kilowatt rate.
Advanced Solar will continue to advocate for more STEP reallocations, and Warrick agreed that the rebate should be extended.
“We’re missing out (on) so much potential for solar energy,” Warrick said, especially in low-income neighborhoods. “I don’t know why we haven’t done more to have more solar panels on our libraries and on our stadiums (as well) – where we can really generate some huge savings.”
CPS Energy revenue is the largest funding source for the City’s General Fund before property and sales tax, so it makes for a complicated relationship when it comes to talking about City energy “savings,” Warrick said, “but we also want to be a green city.”
Each home is inspected by engineers to ensure the roof is structurally sound and can hold a solar array. If it can’t, Rodriguez said, they will connect the customer to other STEP programs like weatherizing and energy efficient appliance rebates.
CPS Energy is currently experimenting with two other options that allow customers to participate in the solar industry: RooflessSolar, or community solar, allows them to “rent” panels in a commercial scale farm for credit on their electricity bill while SolarHost lets them lease their rooftops for a flat fee to a third-party company which installs and maintains the array for free.
“(Advanced Solar’s rebate) rounds out a trifecta of choice,” Rodriguez said, and allows lower-income individuals to realize more return on investment by owning their own system.
Top image: Advanced Solar CEO and co-owner Don Dickey presents information about his company’s innovative rebate program. Photo by Iris Dimmick.