Residential rooftop solar. Image via Flickr user Bernd.

CPS Energy announced plans Monday to seek proposals from solar installation companies that would lease residential rooftops where solar panels would produce energy sold back to the energy utility.

A request for proposal (RFP) for contractors/solar installers interested in taking on the contract, or purchasing power agreement, was released Friday and announced Monday on the utility’s Energized blog.

The pilot program, announced in October 2014, is big news for home owners that want to support alternative energy and save money on their electricity bills, but can’t afford the startup costs of installation. The typical 5-KW system costs more than $9,000, even after local and federal rebates. This solar leasing program would remove all costs for the customer while putting money in their pocket.

Solar installation companies would stay busy with new installations on leased rooftops with a guaranteed purchase of solar-generated power, making them less vulnerable to government reductions in rebates, which depress consumer demand.

Customers may receive a credit on their monthly bill for use of their rooftop or a check in the mail/direct deposit, depending on the final details of the selected contract.

The proposal request is for 1 MW of AC (alternating current) power to be made available for purchase by CPS Energy. However, ambitious installers can submit proposals for 5-10MW. If the pilot program works, CPS Energy’s “plan is to expand it to 25 or even 50 MW over several years. For comparison, since 2007 San Antonio homes and businesses have installed slightly more than 20 MW of photovoltaic rooftop solar,” according to Tracy Hamilton, project manager and author of the public utility’s blog.

For CPS Energy, the benefit of this arrangement comes in the ability to avoid long-term fixed costs associated with customer-owned panels. For low-income CPS Energy customers, it opens up a new option for solar and a few extra bucks to mitigate their monthly bill.

“CPS Energy is our utility, it’s owned by us, the people of San Antonio. And the idea of our utility putting solar on our people’s rooftops, instead of building another centralized power plant – it’s a very exciting thing, and Solar San Antonio (SSA) is very supportive,” stated SSA Interim Executive Director Anita Ledbetter in a news release. Ledbetter is also executive director of Build Green San Antonio, the nonprofit sustainable building resource and third-party green building certification program.

The rooftop leasing pilot was first suggested during Solar Working Group and, Ledbetter said, continues Bill Sinkin’s vision of “solar on every rooftop.”

The proposals will not be based on cost alone, said CPS Energy Vice President of Corporate Development and Planning Raiford Smith. “We’ll also consider the amount of and type of local content … how they plan to market to customers – what we really want to see is how do we broaden the appeal of these programs.”

Proposals are due by March 6 at 5 p.m. and must include a plan to start installing solar systems no later than May 31. Click here to download the RFP.

“We wrote the RFP to allow for as many good ideas as possible,” Hamilton said, adding that there could possibly be more than one contract awarded.

Of course, even if a customer can afford to install their own solar panels, not all homes are ideal for solar panel installation, said Smith. “Their house has to be oriented just the right way and have cash on hand, that just doesn’t happen very frequently … for multi-family residences, low-income (customers), or if your spouse doesn’t want those things on your roof, community solar program (will help) overcome some of these issues.”

Separate from the rooftop leasing program, CPS Energy is reviewing proposals submitted for its 1-MW community solar program, which basically allows customers to purchase panels in a centralized location and reap the benefits from that panel’s production on their bill.

Read more: Coming Soon: Accessible, Affordable Community Solar

CPS Energy will decide on a winning contract and make an announcement in late February or early March.

In the meantime, Hamilton stressed, there is no “list” customers can be put on to get in line for either the community or rooftop leasing programs – yet. And CPS Energy has already received many phone calls asking to be placed on one.

As local and federal rebates are set to expire in 2015 and 2016 respectively (which may or may not be renewed), utilities, customers, and the solar industry are looking for models that keep alternative energy efficient and affordable for all. Net metering will continue for the foreseeable future.

“People are still wondering which (program) is better for the market,” Smith said.

These pilot programs will help customers and CPS Energy start to answer that looming question.

CPS Energy has more than 130MW of solar power in commercial operation as part of its New Energy Economy initiative, which aims to meet 20% of its electricity demand with renewable energy by 2020. OCI Solar Power is under contract to develop 300 more MW through centralized projects in the greater San Antonio area. These residential programs help diversify its investment in solar by adding more distributed sources to the grid.

*Featured/top image: Residential rooftop solar. Image via Flickr user Bernd

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Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com