Starting this summer, Advanced Solar & Electric LLC will match CPS Energy's solar rebate for customers who install solar panels on homes that are worth $100,000 or less.
The unique incentive program is aimed at getting lower-income residents to participate in the solar industry and, thus, reap the long-term cost-saving benefits of owning a solar array, said the local solar company's owner Don Dickey.
"Solar energy is not for anyone, just people that use electricity," Dickey quipped on Monday. The additional incentive will also be offered to residents in City Council districts 1-5, where CPS Energy distributed the least amount of rebate dollars over the life of the public utility's Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) funding.
Dickey will be joined by utility and community leaders on Monday, Aug. 22 for a roundtable discussion about the new initiative that he estimates will help more than 500 people go solar. Representatives from District 2, chambers of commerce, and Bexar County are expected to attend. More information on how to sign up will be made available on the solar company's website soon.
Advanced Solar and community leaders hope this initiative will bring more solar into people's everyday lives by increasing awareness about alternative energies and, ultimately, money in the bank. The average 4.3 kilowatt residential solar array would cost about $2,600 less out of pocket under the additional incentive, bringing the total cost down to $5,822. Because federal Solar Investment Tax (ITC) Credit is 30% based on the total cost of the system minus other rebate programs, the ITC is less than the total $3,809 additional discount from Advanced Solar.
"We want a diversified business model," Dickey said. "This opens up (solar) to more of the market. ... Our sales will be a little less, our profit margins will be a little bit less, but it's not all about making money."
The company is still able to make a profit from the installations, Dickey said, because of Advanced Solar's ability to buy materials and equipment in bulk and at established discounts from suppliers. Advanced Solar, which has two offices in San Antonio, has performed more installations in San Antonio than any other local installer, according to CPS Energy data.
"We use that momentum and volume to get our costs down as much as possible," he said.
CPS Energy has long looked for ways to more evenly spread out rebate dollars and STEP funding. Other STEP programs, such as home audits or energy-efficient appliance rebates, aren't as disproportionately used in higher income neighborhoods because up front costs are lower. A solar array's $8,000-9,000 price tag is intimidating even for wealthier households – regardless of the possible $18,000 in savings over 25 years. A rebate for an air conditioner or for insulation they would likely purchase anyway seems more accessible.
"Even with the rebate, the price is a little high," said CPS Energy spokesperson Paul Flaningan. "Any way that we can creatively spread solar across the city to those areas we haven't been able to penetrate yet ... we're definitely in line with that."
Advanced Solar offers a variety of "creative financing" options, Dickey said, which allows customers to pay off their array month by month. The company will be launching marketing and awareness efforts soon after the roundtable discussion next week.
SolarHost is currently working on a long queue of residents who started signing up for the program about one year ago and want to lease their roofs at a flat rate to a third party company that then sells the electricity to CPS Energy. RooflessSolar, also known as community solar, lets customers rent panels in a commercial-scale array.
The rebate is in its second phase of what might be a phasing out of the solar rebate. CPS Energy reallocated $30 million from other STEP programs to give the rebate another boost in February. The first $10 million was given out at $1.20 per watt. The second $10 million is currently being used at $1 per watt and the last third will go for $0.80. RooflessSolar purchases are also eligible for the rebate.
The utility may begin the third pricing level this fall, Flaningan said. "We went through the first one quicker than expected."
Five-hundred is a rough estimate of households that could benefit from Advanced Solar's program, Dickey said. "There's not a cap as long as the (CPS Energy) rebate is there. We could go back to the manufacturers and ask for an extended deal."
It's unknown if CPS Energy will again extend its rebate. The 30% federal ITC is slated to be reduced to 10% by 2022.
"But it was always understood (that) the solar industry wasn't meant to be subsidized forever," Dickey said. "The cost of equipment has come down drastically over the last 10 years."
Add that to the constantly increasing price of traditional grid power, and the industry may grow out of its subsidies.
Top image: An array of solar panels on a residential roof. Image via Flickr user Jon Callas.