What are States Doing to Promote ‘Green’ Housing Developments?

Outside of California, what has been done to encourage new home builders to offer solar power as an option for a new house? — Gary B., Phoenix, AZ

There are actually a number of programs around the country that have been put into place in recent years to encourage home builders to install both solar water heating and PV systems in new homes. Savvy builders see installation of these systems as a way to make their homes more marketable, especially at a time of increasing utility costs. Many of those builders also acknowledge they are doing it because “it is the right thing to do.”

You make the answer a little more difficult because you rule out California — clearly the biggest market for these homebuilding strategies, especially in terms of offering solar electric systems. As a result, builders all over that state — from major national corporations to small local builders — are actively developing communities with both individual rooftop systems and community-wide distributed generation systems. I think California is so active because of its fortuitous combination of terrific weather, knowledgeable and interested consumers and some wonderful financial incentives that dramatically cut the purchase costs.

But that doesn’t mean builders in other locations don’t see a major market for solar-powered new homes as well. This is really the most economically attractive way of buying a photovoltaic system, since putting the system cost into the mortgage of a new home practically guarantees that energy savings will greatly reduce or surpass the extra financed cost of the system from the very first month the homeowner moves in.

In Ohio, for example, an Energy Loan Fund Grants program helps builders of homes with PV systems get grants of up to $25,000 to lower their system cost. The Montana ENERGY STAR Solar Homes Program encourages installing systems in new homes by providing rebates of $3,500. A program in Massachusetts called Sun Power For New Homes provides rebates of up to $5 per watt for builders installing PV on new homes. There are a number of other state incentive programs that offer builders cost-savings when installing solar systems (as usual, the best source of information on programs like this begins with a visit to www.dsireusa.org).

By the way, the Green Building Incentive Program in Scottsdale in your own state encourages the use of photovoltaics and other renewable energy systems in new construction by providing builders assistance with marketing and review of their plans. In addition, a program in Tucson gives a credit of up to $1,000 for a building permit if PV or other energy-saving measures are incorporated.

There are also many programs that encourage the installation of solar water heaters on new homes. The SunBuilt Program in Florida, for example, gives builders a $500 rebate for every home they build that has a solar water heater to lower their purchase costs of solar systems. This program even gives builders who include solar water heating systems on all their homes a voucher for a free system to be installed on one of their models or parade homes. A number of other states have programs to promote solar water heating, as well as a wide variety of incentives for other renewable energy technologies.

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