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Solar for your Home

While Portland certainly endure long stretches of cloudy winter and spring days, we also enjoy lots of lengthy, uninterrupted days of summer and fall sunshine. In fact, Portland gets substantially more sun than Germany — the world’s leader in reliable, pollution-free solar energy use.

Participate in the solar revolution by yourself, with neighbors or your whole community. Own or lease a system or buy green power from your utility. Generate electricity to use in your home and receive a credit from your utility for any summertime excess. A solar water heating system can slash energy use by 15 percent or more.

 


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How To Install Solar

Direct ownership model couple old home solar panels

  1. Find a Contractor: Find solar contractors in the Energy Trust of Oregon's searchable database of licensed contractors: http://energytrust.org/residential/find-a-contractor/solar/.  These contractors can assess if your home is right for solar and provide you with a bid. We recommend you receive competing bids from at least two contractors.

  2. Sign Paperwork: Sign a contract with your installer, along with the paperwork for any state or local incentives. Your contractor should provide all of the forms and submit the applications on your behalf.  If you are installing solar electric (PV),  you will also need to sign a net-metering agreement with your utility.

  3. Install: Your contractor installs your system, coordinating all required permits and inspections.

  4. Claim your Tax Credits: Complete your application for a Residential Energy Tax Credit from Oregon Department of Energy. Your contractor will provide you a form and assist you. For extra forms, visit www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/RENEW/Solar/Support.shtml. When you complete your Federal income tax return, claim your federal tax credit with Residential Energy Credit Form 5695

Lease Model

  1. Find a Contractor: Find solar contractors in the Energy Trust of Oregon's searchable database of licensed contractors: http://energytrust.org/residential/find-a-contractor/solar/.  These contractors can assess if your home is right for solar and provide you with a bid for a leased system. We recommend you receive competing bids from at least two contractors.

  2. Sign Paperwork: Sign a contract with your installer. Lease agreements have terms ranging from 15 to 30 years. Be sure you understand the details of the agreement, including insurance requirements, production guarantees, and end of term or early buyout options.

  3. Install: Your contractor installs your system, coordinating all required permits and inspections.


Incentives and Tax Credits

There are a variety of incentives available to Oregon homeowners that install solar. Government incentives are typically, though not always, provided as tax credits. State and local incentives are more likely to be cash rebates paid upon construction of the project or over time. In addition to direct incentives, there are other, indirect benefits, such as property tax exemptions and net-metering.

Incentives and tax credits are always subject to change. A good, central resource for up-to-date incentive information is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

Note: The following information on incentives and tax credits is not tax advice. You should consult with a tax professional to understand how tax credits may effect you.

Federal Tax Credit

The federal government offers a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost to install your system, with no cap. To claim the credit, fill out  Residential Energy Credit Form 5695 when you complete your Federal income tax return. There is no other application material, though you should keep documentation of your project’s cost and proof of payment for your records. 

Tax credits, unlike tax deductions, reduce your tax liability directly: dollar for dollar. Provided you have sufficient tax liability to claim the credit, a $1,000 tax credit will be worth a full $1,000 to you in reduced taxes. If you typically pay your taxes through employer withholding throughout the year, a tax credit will likely result in a refund. If you normally owe taxes at the end of the year, the tax credit will directly reduce how much you would otherwise pay. 

If you have insufficient tax liability to claim your entire tax credit in one year, you may carry forward any remaining credit. More details about carry forward can be found on the Form 5695. Note that the Residential Energy Tax Credit is not a refundable tax credit.

State Tax CreditsOregon Dept of Energy Logo

Oregon Department of Energy offers a Residential Energy Tax Credit of $2.10 per watt of solar electric modules installed, up to $6,000 (and you claim a maximum of $1,500 per year). For solar water heating systems, they provide $0.15/kWh of estimated annual energy savings, up to $1,500.  

As with the federal tax credit, if you have insufficient tax liability to claim your tax credit in any given year, you may carry forward the remaining credit, though there are limits on how long you have to use the carry forward. More details at oregon.gov/energy.

Energy Trust of Oregon IncentivesEnergy Trust of Oregon Logo

Energy Trust offers cash rebates to customers of Portland General Electric and Pacific Power, as well as NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas for gas back-up solar water heating systems. They provide incentives for solar electric and solar water heating systems that are installed by qualified contractors in their Trade Ally Network. Their solar electric incentives are subject to change base don demand, so check their website for the most up-to-date information. Energy Trust offers a  solar calculator that shows how their incentive works with the state and federal tax credit to bring down the cost of a solar electric installation. 

For solar water heating systems, they offer a flat incentive that ranges from $550 to $1,200 per system, depending on system type and location. Learn more on their solar water heating webpages.

Feed-in Tariff Pilot

In 2009, the Oregon legislature passed a law establishing a new solar incentive option in Oregon (feed-in tariff). Oregon customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and Idaho Power can apply to be part of the program as capacity is available. Customers who opt to use this incentive are not eligible for Energy Trust incentives or a state tax credit, though they can still claim the federal tax credit. 

A feed-in tariff is an incentive program in which the electric utility pays the owner of a solar electric system a fixed premium rate for every renewable kilowatt-hour generated over a period of time. Those payments allow the owner to recoup their investment over time. This model has been used successfully in Germany. 

For more information, visit the utility’s websites:


Own or Lease?

A growing number of homeowners are choosing to lease, rather than own, their rooftop solar panels. This trend is being driven by the increased availability of leasing companies and the upfront costs of solar, which are prohibitive for many solar enthusiasts. Homeowners may pay anything ranging from a moderate down-payment to nothing initially, and then pay a fixed “lease” rate for the system over a period of 15 to 30 years. The leaser/installer covers the system costs (and enjoys subsequent rebates and incentives), maintains the system, and collects lease payment from the homeowners. In exchange, homeowners benefit from reduced utility bills and get to have solar on their roof. 

A host of companies have entered the leasing game, led by SolarCity and SunRun — two California companies operating in several states.

The SunRun Model

The SunRun model works like this: Homeowners typically pay several thousand dollars upfront front (though there may be $0 down-payment options), and SunRun installs a solar system on their rooftop. Homeowners then pay a lease fee that varies with the size of the system and the initial down-payment. Homeowners may choose to put more money down up-front and lock in lower rate for the term of the lease, or pay less and spread the costs out over time.

The SolarCity Model

SolarCity’s offer works similarly to SunRun’s model with one key difference:  SolarCity is a full service provider, using it’s own in-house designers, engineers and installers to construct and maintain the systems they own, while SunRun contracts with  independent solar contractors to source, install and maintain their systems.

To Lease is Not To Own

SunRun and SolarCity’s models are fairly representative of the norm. However, it is important to understand that solar leasing programs are not rent-to-own schemes. If you want to own a system, buy it up-front, but if you want to lower your electricity bills with minimal initial investment, lease.

While leasing arrangements will save money immediately, they are not a path to long-term “free” solar electricity that many people seek when installing solar. After the lease term is up, homeowners may choose to renew the lease under a new contract or have the panels removed.

If ownership is preferred, then there are other financing paths, typically bank loans. While ownership can cost more up-front (or in debt) and means more responsibility for the system, it also leads to bigger savings down the road and more control over one’s personal energy future. Solar leasing is a matter of convenience.

Source information: http://solar.calfinder.com/


Solar Resources

Solar Oregon logoSolar Oregon is a non-profit organization that provides outreach and education on solar technology and its applications, methods for improving energy efficiency, and ideas for building a carbon-neutral future. They offer workshops, peer-to-peer support, and extensive information on going solar. 

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