Los Angeles Rebate Program: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200
Another incentive program for placing solar panels on your home bites the dust-at least temporarily. The suspension of the solar rebate program by the Los Angeles Department of Power (LADWP) has left a lot of acrimony in its wake. A new story in Solar Industry Magazine describes how PV installers blame the utility for an ineffective program while the utility cites not only budgetary considerations but also "growing safety concerns" and "some apparent misinformation to LADWP customers by some PV installers." Talk about ways not to gain any friends in the solar energy industry.
The budget part of the equation reflects the harsh reality around the country that as budgets run dry, renewable energy incentive programs are an easy target. And as solar demand increases, what money is allocated for rebates is quickly sucked up by the first in line. In Los Angeles, LADWP had requests for $112 million for its Solar Incentive Program, but an annual budget of only $30 million.
One columnist suggests that in any event, these incentive programs for solar energy are running their course. According to Cheryl Kaften writing a column on TMCnet, the utility has helped support about 3,300 installations over 12 years and has already provided more than $117 million in incentives for both commercial and residential solar energy system. Kaften suggests that incentive programs are naturally coming to an end: "[N]o one should be surprised that rebate money is drying up. Such programs were intended from the get-go to be temporary and to result in steadily shrinking refunds for solar installations. The idea was to reward early solar adopters and to kick-start activity in the market. This, in turn, would bring down prices through economies of scale and eventually make rebates unnecessary. To a large extent, it's worked out that way."
Reasonable minds can differ on the efficacy of these incentives to continue to support the deployment of solar power in the US, but the major bone of contention for the Solar Incentive Program in Los Angeles is a requirement that to receive the rebate, each solar energy system must be examined by a designated inspector from the utility. Long lines have caused some solar installers to jump the gun and turn on the installation before inspection. PV installers cite impatient clients who want to turn on the solar energy system after installation but have to wait at least another three weeks for inspection.
Whether the Los Angeles utility will again turn on the spigot for solar energy may depend not only on the budget but also on the administration of a very popular program.