CPS Energy will shift an additional $15 million to its solar rebate program this year after the $30 million boost the program received in late 2015 was used up by customers far sooner than expected, according to utility officials.

“The pace of activity has exceeded all expectations,” CPS Energy Chief Operating Officer Cris Eugster told the board of trustees on Monday. The initial extension, which stepped down the rebate from $1.20 per watt to 80 cents, was expected to last through 2018.

The new 60-cent-per-watt rebate, slated to begin in February, will include an extra eight- and two-cent incentive if customers select locally made modules and inverters, respectively. That brings the total possible rebate to 70 cents per watt.

The rebate program will be divided into two categories: $9 million for residential installations and $6 million for commercial.

The additional investment is aimed at continuing to sustain a growing local solar industry. There are approximately 67 megawatts of solar distributed throughout San Antonio rooftops, Eugster said.

According to data provided by local solar installers, there are about 60 installation companies in San Antonio that employ 650 people.

solar installation growth
Credit: Courtesy / CPS Energy

“At the end of 2015 the industry really was going to die,” said Don Dickey of Advanced Solar, adding that the local rebate is still needed – as is the federal rebate – to keep the installations relatively affordable and keep the average pay-off term under 10 years.

By the end of this month, about 9,200 customers will take advantage of the solar rebate. The funding will come from the budgets of other Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) programs, which include customer discounts on home audits, energy-efficient appliance rebates, weatherization, and demand-response management tools.

STEP program portfolio
Credit: Courtesy / CPS Energy

“Bottom line, I think it’s good for the market – it’s good for solar in San Antonio,” said Robert Miggins of Go Smart Solar. “The fact that they’re stepping it down in measurable chunks makes sense. … At some point soon, solar will be able to stand on its own two feet without any subsidy. Until that’s completely true all the time on lots of different roofs, it’s good to have the support of CPS creating more demand.”

The cost of solar has decreased dramatically over the past decade and rebate programs across the country have followed suit.

Courtesy / CPS Energy

Advanced Solar is currently offering a rebate-matching program for qualifying customers who live in Districts 1-5 or have a home worth less than $100,000 anywhere in the city. The company will likely continue to match the local rebate until CPS Energy institutionalizes a program that could “bridge the demographic gap” for residents that cannot currently afford solar, said Ben Rodriguez, director of project development for Advanced Solar.

CPS Energy also is working on strengthening its contractor guidelines to ensure that the installers that receive the local rebates are indeed local.

“Some of those companies coming from the outside may not be aligning with the community or selling too aggressively,” said Eugster, adding that CPS Energy has suspended several companies that weren’t complying with the customer disclosure. That document, required as part of the contract, lays out some basic information about the rebate program and solar industry.

While competition is welcome in the market, Dickey said, these measures will “keep some of the riff raff out of the picture.”

contract guidelines and disclosure
Credit: Courtesy / CPS Energy
Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org