Californians are going solar at record rates, according to a new report assessing the performance of the the $3.3 billion California Solar Initiative. The program, which began in January, offers rebates to homeowners, businesses and non-profits that install solar panels. Between January and mid-September, the CSI program has received 5,109 applications representing 160 megawatts of solar energy, according to the study by the California Public Utilities Commission. "In the first nine months alone, requests for CSI incentives are on track to exceed Californiaís total installed solar from the previous 26 years," the report’s authors write. The ambitious goal is to generate 3 gigawatts of solar electricity from solar arrays by the time the program ends in 2016.
About 90 percent of the applications received this year are for residential rooftop solar panels, but the arrays being installed by business, governments and non-profits represent 87 percent of the megawatts of green electricity that will be generated. In July, utility PG&E (PCG) was being flooded by 50 to 90 applications a day. In fact, Northern Californians have been the most enthusiastic about the solar program, judging by the fact that the San Francisco-based utility has received about 70 percent of the rebate applications.
The state currently pays a rebate of $2.50 per watt generated by a solar array. For a real-life example of the bottom line cost of going solar in California, check out the Fortune magazine story Green Wombat wrote tapping colleague Michael Copeland’s experience installing panels on his Berkeley home. But don’t be in a hurry to get that rebate – it took an average 117 days for PG&E customers to receive their checks while Southern California Edison (EIX) customers had to wait 135 days, according to the report. San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) customers got their rebates the fastest, with an average 113 day wait. One way to avoid spending months checking your mailbox is go with a solar installer that deducts the rebate from the cost of the solar system upfront, as Copeland did.
The California Public Utilities Commission acknowledged that it’s too soon to predict whether Californians will continue to install solar panels at the same rate has they have in 2007, but the commission predicted CSI would outperform past solar incentive programs.