PV Gets More People-friendly

The residential PV system, which now costs about $26,000 for an average sized four-kilowatt system, keeps getting more and more people-friendly as utilities and developers continue to add incentives for affordable housing.

Resulting from provisions of the California Solar Initiative (CSI), this burst of PV installations on affordable housing is no accident. Policymakers, homeowners and landlords are realizing the value of installing PV — from personal, to financial, to educational and, of course, environmental.

But, the laundry list of financial partners typically involved with developing affordable housing – with or without solar — demonstrate its inherent complexity. Those include city redevelopment agencies, state housing and community development agencies, local housing authorities, and a host of banks and financial institutions.

One tool to help encourage PV installations in this complex process arrived on the scene in January of 2009. The California Utility Allowance Calculator enables developers interested in building new affordable housing units to make far more accurate predictions of an individual project’s utility costs, a key requirement in the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee’s application process. For the first time, these predictions can now take into account not only any proposed energy-saving measures a builder wants to incorporate, but also the savings that come with solar.

Since then, the state’s three investor-owned utilities launched the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program, which supports the addition of PV to existing, multi-unit homes. And, the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program, administered by the Berkeley-based non-profit Grid Alternatives, is tailored to help individual homeowners go solar. Both programs provide higher levels of incentives to support solar installations at eligible affordable housing projects.

For example, the SASH program provides incentives between $4.75 and $7.00 per watt, depending on a variety of factors, including a household’s federal income tax liability and if the household’s earnings are well below the area’s median income. This can be compared to $0.65 per watt currently available to PG&E customers participating in the standard CSI program.

But there’s a glitch: currently, all three MASH program administrators have maxed out available incentives and established waitlists. Not until projects with reservations are cancelled, suspended or drop out, will the waitlist projects be selected for reservations.

Meanwhile, developers will be watching what the CPUC decides about the future of the MASH program and adding to their laundry lists of developments they’d like to equip with PV.

It seems like solar is coming out of its shell.

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