San Diego: Solar Superstar

Home to more than just SeaWorld and a world-class zoo, themetropolis of San Diego is also one of America’s top clean energycities, pulling in 27 percentof its electricity through biogas, small hydro and solar power. 

SanDiego County itself is also a solar superstar, leading the state inCalifornia Solar Initiative (CSI) applications: from the beginning of2007 to January 6 of this year, it received a total of 57.4 megawatts’worth of applications for solar installations, comprising 12.8 percent of the total.

If your home or business is located in San Diego County, chances areyour electricity provider is either San Diego Gas & Electric(SDG&E) or Imperial Irrigation District (IID), both of whichprovide generous solar rebates. SDG&E’s incentives are part of theCSI, a statewide incentive program that provides rebates forresidential and commercial installations alike. The rebate you would beeligible for depends on the expected performance of your solar systemas well as the total capacity of all the systems linked into yourutility at the time of your rebate application.

One important thing to keep in mind, though: while the CSI rebatecurrently stands at $1.10/watt for all residential and commercialprojects under 30 kW, this rebate will fall to $0.65/watt once the CSIallocates the megawatts remaining in its current incentive level (level6), so act quickly. To see how this works, GetSolar has a guide tonavigating the ins and outs of the CSI here.

IID customers are eligible for similar rebates for solar homes andbusinesses, although the incentives are limited to solar photovoltaicarrays. (The CSI will be launching a solar hot water program startingApril 2010, although IID has yet to announce a similar initiative forits customers.) A $2.60/watt rebate for residential systems up to 15kW, commercial/industrial systems up to 300 kW andgovernment/non-profit systems up to 400 kW is available. Once you’vesubmitted a Reservation Confirmation Form, along with a $100 deposit,you have six months to find a solar installerand get your solar PV system up and running. Furthermore, you arerequired to submit a few additional forms and applications (outlinedand found on the IID website) in order to receive official approval for a system, which is necessary in order to receive a rebate.

Add to this the 30 percent federal tax credit available forresidential solar systems—which is capped at $2,000 for systemsinstalled after 2009—and San Diego’s solar incentives offer plenty ofreasons to turn to the sun. However, no good news arrives withoutunwanted company: as Margaret reported last week,solar permitting fees in the city of San Diego have soared sixfold overthe past month, from $93 to $565. Once the third-cheapest city in thecounty to go solar, San Diego is now the second most expensive,trailing behind only National City. Still, plenty of cities in SanDiego county impose permitting fees roughly less than or equal to thevalue the Sierra Club deems fair ($324), with the majority staying wellbelow the $300 mark. (A comprehensive list of solar permitting fees inthe county can be found here. Forthose who live in the city of San Diego, the hike in permitting fees isundoubtedly a sudden roadblock. But if solar is right for youotherwise, it will only be a short matter of time before these addedcosts are recouped.

Fortunately, those building new homes in San Diego County areexempted from paying the building permit and plan check fees for anyresidential photovoltaic systems, thanks to the county’s Green Building Program. San Diego also recently introduced its Solar FIRST program, aninitiative that would allow homeowners to finance their solar panelinstallations through a loan from their municipal government andrepaying the loan over twenty years through a surcharge on theirproperty tax bill, thus relegating the debt to the property owner andmaking it easier to buy and sell a solar home. While San Diego Countycould make a few of its permitting fees more digestible, it’s clearfrom the rebates on offer that it is, on the whole, committed toadvancing solar homes and businesses.

California Solar Series: San Diego


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