Home with solar energy in Burbank

The owner of the home at 1021 La Rambla Drive in Burbank was one of about 100 that took advantage of the Burbank Water and Power solar support rebate program by installing solar panels on the roof of the home, photographed on Tuesday, August 30, 2011. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

The popularity of the city’s solar rebate program, combined with tax incentives, forced its closure even before the fiscal year began, officials said, meaning property owners will have to wait until next year to apply.

John Joyce, who manages the Solar Support Program at Burbank Water and Power, said it was the first time the rebates had to be suspended since it began in 1999.

“It’s a good thing,” Joyce said. “We had a huge surge of applications.”

The surge was likely due to the combination of dropping costs for installing solar panels and a 30% federal tax credit that will remain available through 2016, Joyce said.

Joyce estimated the average cost to install solar panels is $21,000, with about $7,000 in rebates.

Coupled with a tax incentive, customers could get an additional $4,000 back, Joyce added.

That would mean an out-of-pocket cost of about $10,000, he said, noting it could take about 10 years to see that savings on the customer’s utility bill.

A small percentage of revenue from California electric utilities goes toward public benefits projects, which include those promoting renewable and efficient energy use.

For the current fiscal year, $1 million was allocated for solar rebates through Burbank Water and Power, up from $900,000 the previous year.

But because of the number of solar projects approved, and an estimate of what large installations are producing, there is not enough money to accept new projects, Joyce said.

Across the state, roughly $46.6 million worth of residential solar project incentives are pending among three of the largest program administrators, according to the California Energy Commission’s “Go Solar” initiative.

Four residential applications and one commercial application were incomplete when the program closed, he said. The applications were canceled through the online application process, although Joyce said one resident went ahead with the installation.

Since then, another four residents decided to go forward without rebates, he said.  

When the City Council discusses the budget for the next fiscal year, residents and business owners who were turned away can reapply.

Joyce said customers interested in receiving the rebates next year should check the utility’s website in early June. Rebates are administered on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.

“It’s more beneficial to make energy-efficient improvements,” Joyce said. “The best investment toward energy efficiency is the kilowatt hour you don’t use. Solar satisfies the energy usage of the building, but you could make improvements to the building to get the amount of energy you use down. You get more bang for your buck.”

Such improvements include double-pane windows and energy-efficient lighting, he said.

“If you do that first, you save more money per investment than solar,” he said. “Solar should be the icing on the cake versus the first thing you jump on.”