Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Homeowners Can Now Lease Solar Panels

More home builders are putting solar panels on new homes and have come up with a novel way of making solar more affordable for buyers.

Builders Lennar and Toll Bros. recently opened new home developments in California in which solar panels are included at no upfront cost to buyers. Solar companies own the systems, and the new homeowners lease them from the company.

Solar companies have offered solar lease programs for owners of existing homes for several years. Now, the option is spreading to new homes.

It makes the most sense for new home buyers who are unable to wrap the solar system cost — often $10,000 to $20,000 — into their mortgages.

Builders are considering the lease arrangements as a way to make solar affordable and distinguish their new homes in a tough economy.

"Most of the major builders have nosed around it," says Robert Hammon of energy consulting firm ConSol. He expects new home solar — and the lease option — to spread slowly in the next year.

Most of the solar-system-buying action has been in California, where state incentives and a 30% federal tax credit can halve the cost, says Lynn Jurich, president of solar company SunRun.

And now California also is the center of the budding solar home-lease business for:

Toll Bros. Eighteen of 20 home buyers recently chose the solar-service option at Toll's development in Yorba Linda, Calif., says Jim Boyd, regional president of Toll, which expects to expand the program to three other California developments. "It's another feature of a new home that will help us sell."

Toll has partnered with SunRun to offer 20-year leases. For a home that would have a $150 electric bill, the solar program would save about $50 a month, Jurich says.

When the lease expires, homeowners can renew, buy the panels or remove them. Leases can transfer with home sales.

Lennar. In June, Lennar rolled out solar lease options for several developments in Fresno and Southern California, after testing the concept last year in Sacramento. Lennar partnered with solar company SunPower. Of the 260 solar homes sold, half were with leased solar, says Matt Brost, general manager of SunPower's new home division.

SunPower has put solar on 4,500 new homes since 2006, largely in California but also Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Jersey. Brost says 5% to 7% of new homes in California now have solar.


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