California's rebate program for homeowners who go solar is winding
down, the money nearly spent. But it's still setting a few records before the
In 2012, Californians installed enough rooftop solar panels to generate a record 391 megawatts of electricity, according to a rebate program update issued this week by the state. That's up 26 percent from 2011.
Oh, and those numbers don't even include Los Angeles and Sacramento. The California Solar Initiative provides rebates to customers of the state's investor-owned utilities, such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co., while both L.A. and Sacramento have their own municipal utilities covered under different solar incentives.
Launched in 2007, the $2.4 billion program was supposed to help fund the installation of 1,940 megawatts of solar power by 2016. According to Wednesday's update from the California Public Utilities Commission, the solar program has installed about 66 percent of its total goal, with an additional 19 percent in pending projects.
Last year's record installation came even as the rebates dwindled away.
By design, the rebates started big in 2007 but scaled back over time, dropping from $2.50 per watt for residential projects to 20 cents. But even as the rebates were falling, so were installation prices. A residential solar system in California now costs about $5.78 per watt, according to state data. When the rebates began, the average cost was $9.79 per watt.
California still will reward those who install the systems. Homeowners whose solar systems generate more electricity than they need get a credit on their utility bills under a system called net energy metering. Utility companies want to cut that incentive, arguing it unfairly shifts costs onto their non-solar customers. Solar companies and their advocates are fighting to keep net metering intact.
Regardless of how that debate plays out, this week's figures suggest that the solar industry in California has reached a point where its growth is becoming less dependent on the size of its subsidies. It may not be ready to fly on its own yet, but it's getting closer.
Read the Fossils & Photons energy blog online at: http://blog.sfgate.com/energy
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