Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tough Few Weeks for Solar Rebates

Over the last few weeks, solar news came from Hollywood—not in the form of a movie—and stretched across the country to New Jersey. Most of the news was positive but some, like news coming from Colorado, was a bit cloudier.

In Colorado, Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, froze its Solar Rewards rebate program until it is a able to reduce its solar rebate rate to $1.25 per watt. Solar installers say the lowered rebate rate is forcing them to layoff workers. The proposed decrease follows on the heels of a reduction the utility announced just two weeks prior, from $2.35 per watt to $2.01 per watt—the lowest amount currently allowed in Colorado. The proposal is now being discussed by Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission, but installers are already planning layoffs. It’s a move that Xcel could take in other states it provides services in.

However, utilities in other states, like California, are participating in new rebate and incentive programs. California’s new Energy Upgrade California rebate program leverages funds from utilities and the state to offer residents rebates for making their homes more energy efficient and for photovoltaics. Rebates can reach as high as $4,000 to help pay for solar and other home upgrades.

Delaware announced a total of 41 block grants supporting energy efficiency and solar projects in its smaller towns and cities. The grants leverage federal funding to help the local towns use less energy and save money, while providing new jobs as the state recovers from the recession.

Cities are also remaining active in promoting solar through rebate programs. For instance, Beaverton, Ore., launched its Solar Beaverton campaign last week. The campaign aims to put solar on the homes of 220 more homes in the 87,000-person city by offering solar at fixed cost.

The solar news coming from Washington, D.C., last week was mixed. On one hand, 51 residents that installed solar are stuck waiting for rebates from the city they were approved for, but the money for the rebates was apparently used to help close the city’s budget gap. On the other hand, the city has a strong group of solar co-ops that are helping residents learn about the benefits of solar and are helping to reduce the costs of a system by working with contractors.

In a unique application of solar power, a new solar thermal system is being used to extract oil in what’s known as an enhanced oil recovery application. GlassPoint recently completed its first solar thermal trough system, which superheats water into steam. The steam is then pumped into an oil deposit to heat the oil, freeing it from rock and making it harvestable.

That might seem like a dirty use for clean energy but you could say GlassPoint’s new device was offset by the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of solar at Frontier Fertilizer Superfund site in California. That, combined with a special heating system, will help clean up the site in a fifth of the time originally estimated.

The Randolph Sports Pavilion in Randolph, N.J., went nearly 100 percent solar, thanks to a 1,556-module solar array on its roof. Owner Jeff Walder said the system will lead to six-figure utility savings this year.

In Hollywood, solar was in the spotlight as Twentieth Century Fox Film turned on its new solar array on its historic Building 99. The move could soon be emulated by other movie and television studios looking for long-term pricing stability.


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