Solar power 101
If you are thinking about adding a home solar system, you will need to move quickly to take full advantage of incentives.
Some home or business owners in Richland planning to install solar panels likely are facing a drop in rates in the city program that buys electricity from small solar systems.
And now a state tax incentive program is expected to run out of money soon, likely shutting many homeowners and businesses that plan to install solar out of getting the benefit.
In 2017 the Washington state Legislature approved $110 million for the Renewable Energy System Incentive Program to replace a similar program that ended that year.
But by mid October, $95 million had already been obligated.
Demand has been very high, said Jake Fey, director of the Washington State University’s Energy Program, which administers the incentive program.
The state has had about 20,000 solar systems — including community, commercial and residential systems — covered by the original and new incentive programs since 2005.
With money running short now, residential and commercial project owners with projects having capacities of up to 12 kilowatts must apply by Feb. 14 for the incentive program.
Their projects also must be completed and have passed a final electrical inspection a week before that on Jan. 31.
Applications received later will be placed on a waiting list and will be processed only if some of the $110 million is left.
For those accepted, the program will provide an incentive over eight years of 14 cents per kilowatt hour of power produced, with payments made by their local utilities for fiscal years ending in June. Solar system owners also may be eligible for a 4 cents per kilowatt hour incentive payment if their equipment was made in Washington.
Incentives are capped at 50 percent of the total system price.
There’s always a chance that the Legislature will approve another incentive program, said Fey, who is also a state representative from Tacoma. But it took four years to get the 2017 bill passed, he cautioned.
Another state law requires Washington state utilities to provide net metering equal to half a percent of its 1996 peak demand, paying customers with solar systems that have excess power its retail rate for power.
The city of Richland closed its program this month to new customers as it approaches the minimum state requirement for net metering.
As of June, the latest figures available, the program was providing net metering for 1,095 kilowatts, said Clint Whitney, Richland’s energy services director.
The minimum that Richland must cover is 1,023 kilowatts.
About 30 customers may be interested in applying for the program now, based on applications to the state solar incentive program, Whitney said.
The city is expected to make a decision after the first of the year on a new policy.
It may consider reimbursing those with new solar systems at a wholesale rate that would be lower than the current retail rate of 6.86 cents per kilowatt hour.
“We understand solar is very important to some customers,” Whitney said. “We want to make sure any compensation for excess generation is compensated at our avoided cost.”
The Benton Public Utility District has not reached its state-required minimum for net metering and has no plans to change its program. said spokeswoman Karen Miller.
The Franklin PUD has exceeded the state minimum required for net metering, but does plan to put any limits on its program.
“We encourage all forms of energy as long as the (PUD) system remains reliable,” said spokeswoman Debbie Bone-Harris.