Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
Almost three-quarters of the 11,280 panels that make up the 1.2 megawatt solar farm in Adkins, Texas have already been reserved by commercial and residential CPS Energy customers, officials said Monday. The customers that follow through with their one-time payments will receive credits on their electricity bill according to how much is generated from the array, which will be connected to the grid in the next three to four weeks.
To make the panels more affordable, CPS Energy extended its solar tax rebate to include the RooflessSolar program. This, alongside a federal tax credit program, reduced the total cost per panel for customers from $406 to $202.
To reserve a panel, a 10% deposit is required after registration at www.rooflesssolar.com. Customers can choose to purchase just one panel, or enough to offset most of their electricity bill, but not more than their consumption. Typically, purchases are tailored based on income and energy use.
Each panel will cost $289 at the point of sale and it's up to the customer to apply for the federal 30% Solar Investment Tax Credit to shave off $87. The Clean Energy Collective (CEC), a Colorado-Based company that operates the RooflessSolar program, will receive $117 per panel from CPS Energy's rebate program.
CPS Energy's RooflessSolar pilot program is one of three programs the public utility has set up for customers to participate in the local solar economy. RooflessSolar has the lowest amount of hassle and commitment compared to the SolarHost and private installation rebate programs – both of which require customers to have a suitable rooftop.
This program allows people that live in apartments, condos, or property owners with inadequate surfaces to collect sunshine to benefit from solar at an affordable rate per kilowatt hour (kwh).
Electricity bills for panel owners will go down by $23.19 per year, per panel, paying for itself just shy of nine years, according to CEC. Customers can pay the full amount upfront or work out a financing option. Contracts last for 25 years, the estimated productive life of the panels, and can be transferred to a new owner if the original resident moves out of CPS Energy's service area. After 25 years, each panel is expected to produce $4,980-worth of electricity.
CEC, the largest community solar developer in the U.S., expects that a waitlist will form for panel ownership, said CEC Assistant Vice President of Marketing Todd Davidson. The company may create a marketplace of some kind for people relocating from city to city who want to continue participation in similar programs.
The state-of-the-art panels used in the array located east beyond Loop 1604, between farm and ranch fields just south of St. Hedwig, are about the third of the size of typical panels.
"These are some of the most highly efficient panels in the market right now," Davidson said during a Monday morning tour of the solar farm, which is in the final stages of construction.
The RooflessSolar and SolarHost pilot programs are just two examples of CPS Energy's New Energy Economy initiatives supported by the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP). The STEP goal is to offset the community’s demand for electricity produced by fossil fuels by 771 MW by 2020.
"We've invested quite a bit in utility scale solar and now we're shifting towards more local, distributed solar – bringing in (electricity generation) closer to our load centers," said CPS Energy Executive Vice President of Generation and Strategy Cris Eugster. "Natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind – you can't do that locally. Solar is something that we can do right here in San Antonio."
CPS Energy has been in talks with neighborhood associations and other groups to explore options to replicate the pilot program across the city, he said. "We need to see this (pilot program) play out and then we would look to expand."
The "roofless" and "hosting" program, the latter of which involves homeowners essentially leasing out their roofs for a contractor to install a solar array at little to no cost to the homeowner, are also both promoted by the nonprofit Build San Antonio Green (BSAG).
"Projects like this represent this new era that we're moving into where (solar) is becoming more mainstream," said Anita Ledbetter, executive director of BSAG and its Solar San Antonio program. "(RooflessSolar) opens it up to people that can't afford to install a system on their house or they can't participate in the solar hosting program. This gives them a great option to buy in ... this thing is going to sell out pretty fast."
BSAG is a nonprofit sustainable building program that certifies homes under a rigorous third-party process according to advanced energy, water, and health standards.
"People need to feel the ability to participate in the New Energy Economy," she said, and it's programs like these that bring hi-tech, sustainability ideas to the "dinner-table level" for people to see and experience in their every day lives.
Top image: The panels include a state-of-the-art sun tracking system which makes them 30% more efficient. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.