PV Loans Up, Customers Choose to Keep Arrays

When the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) started the PV Pioneer program they knew the program would eventually end.

So did the customers who offered up their rooftops for a free solar photovoltaic (PV) array, and signed ten-year loan agreements with the utility with an option to buy the array once the loan term was up. The time has now come for approximately 500 of these “PV Pioneer” customers to choose whether they will buy the systems at a discounted price. But the successful effort to promote the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry for the Sacramento area isn’t ending completely, the utility district is simply switching its focus from rooftop PV arrays to a building integrated PV (BIPV) program currently being finalized. “We hope that someday the added cost associated with a PV system purchased under loan payments is less than the amount they save on their energy bill so that the home owner is cash positive from day one,” said Jon Bertolino, the superintendent of renewables at SMUD. SMUD purchased, installed and maintained over 500 arrays on roofs throughout the district during the program. Customers who signed up for the PV Pioneers program signed a 10-year lease with the utility for the installation and use of a retrofitted PV array on their home. SMUD used the installations as a way to bring local electricians and contractors into the PV installation field. Customers of PV Pioneers who choose to keep the arrays will become part of the PV Pioneer II project, which simply moves them from a loan agreement to system ownership. System costs will be discounted for those customers and based on a fair market assessment, according to Bertolino. For customers who decide they don’t want the system, SMUD will remove the array at no cost, as is part of the loan agreement. The solar industry learned more about the technology, the costs dropped and a local service market was been developed because of the program. Now there are local businesses qualified to sell, install and maintain solar power systems. New home developments are next on SMUD’s agenda. The utility is working with various builders and zero-energy home projects in the area to use BIPV on new developments because the installation cost is cheaper, Bertolino said. System costs can also be rolled into mortgage payments, which would make BIPV more affordable particularly with the utility funded rebates that are available.
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