Following LIPA’s less than stellar performance during Hurricane Sandy and other storms, the sun has become an even more popular choice as a way out from under LIPA’s notoriously high electricity rates.
LIPA’s longstanding Solar Pioneer/Entrepreneur Program, which offers thousands of dollars in cash off the cost of a solar electricity system, just happens to be the one bright light in the beleaguered utility company’s activities.
Incentive to Perform
On March 1, LIPA rolled out a new performance-based solar energy incentive, the latest in a series of changes to its photovoltaics (PV) program. Called an Expected Performance-Based Buydown (EPBB), homeowners receive up to $1.45 per watt, or $14,500, toward system cost. The amount is based on expected system performance calculated according to site and system characteristics, such as southern exposure, shading, roof tilt, and other factors.
The old-style rebate program provided the same incentive amounts to everyone, levels LIPA reduced since December from $1.75 per watt to $1.50 per watt in February, since the cost of PV systems themselves have declined in recent years as panel prices dropped.
“This new LIPA incentive process makes much more sense because it rewards better-performing systems,” explained Built Well Solar Corp. President Dan Sabia. “It puts quality equipment and installation first, something we’ve always valued anyway, but now our customers will be rewarded for this.”
LIPA recently held a series of meetings and webinars for experienced solar contractors to launch the new program. The contractors will do the calculation and submit the qualifying information packet to LIPA on the homeowner’s behalf. Most solar energy companies offer the incentive upfront, so the homeowner doesn’t have to wait for LIPA to pay. This one of several reasons solar energy systems have become more affordable on Long Island.
LIPA’s incentives are not the only reason the purchase of a solar energy system is more affordable on Long Island these days. A 25 percent New York State tax credit, capped at $5,000, and a whopping 30 percent federal tax credit also help, as do sales tax exemptions and real estate tax moratoriums.
According to LIPA, the average system cost, when all is said and done, is about $9,200. Solar industry sources put it at less than $7,000, with a payback averaging 4 1/2 years, due to ever-declining panel prices and rising LIPA rates. See the “How Much Does a Typical PV System Cost” link. http://www.lipower.org/residential/efficiency/renewables/solar-cost.html
After the payback period, using dollars otherwise spent on LIPA bills, all electricity the solar energy system generates is free -- free for some 25 years, the average warranty period, which actually could last even longer. Long-term, that’s an investment the best days of Wall Street couldn’t beat.
New Leasing Alternative
Another new avenue to affordability is leasing. PV system leasing only recently was made possible resulting from a ruling by LIPA’s board in November enabling its residential incentives to be assigned to a lease provider.
Leasing lets homeowners put panels on their homes at little or no initial cost, in exchange for turning those LIPA rebates as well the tax credits over to the solar lease provider that owns and monitors the system. While not completely eliminating the cost of the power generated, as is true when owning the system, the homeowner who leases the system pays a lower than current rate for the power.
“Leasing is the perfect alternative for people who don’t have the initial outlay or who don’t want to finance the purchase of a PV system,” said Ken Nastri, Regional Residential Sales Manager for Trinity Solar. “There are several types of leasing plans, including one with a no upfront cost option.”
For more information about solar energy for Long Island homeowners, as well as for businesses and non-profits, see renewable energy programs at LIPA http://www.lipower.org or visit Renewable Energy Long Island at http://www.lishines.org.
(Editor's Note: The author is the vice president of Built Well Solar, Corp.)