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Solar PV Energy Systems FAQs: Things to Consider Before Investing

Richland Energy Services (RES) provides this information for customers considering installing solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems. We've compiled these FAQs using numerous, unbiased government and industry sources. For more information, read on and visit Renewable Energy and Net Metering at the City's website, or contact us at RichlandSolar@ci.richland.wa.us or (509) 942-7431.

1. I'm considering installing a solar PV system. What should I Know?

  • Do your homework, and get balanced information from several sources. Talk to others who have PV systems. Additional resources we recommend are listed at the end of the FAQs.
  • Research and investigate the contractor. Get estimates and quotes from more than one reputable, licensed and insured solar installation contractor.
  • Read and understand the fine print before you sign any contract. Verify if there are performance guarantees.
  • Look at the production and savings estimates over the life of the system or contract term, not just the first year payments. Verify the incentives and tax credits presented are actually offered by Washington State and the IRS.
  • Check with your homeowners association (HOA) before installing your system. While HOAs can’t prohibit installations, they can implement rules about system placement and other requirements. Washington State Law RCW 64.38.055 governs resident and HOA responsibilities regarding solar energy system installations. 

2. What does a typical residential solar PV energy system cost?

The installed system cost in our area is approximately $4,000 to $5,000 per kWdc as of June 2018.

3. How much energy (kWh) will a typical 5 kWdc solar PV energy system produce during a typical weather year in Richland?

Using the PVWatts® Calculator, a free solar tool from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), we calculate a 5 kWdc system in central Richland can produce 6,479 – 7,014 kWh annually.

Your system’s production will vary based on many variables including the system design, panel array type, inverter efficiency, proper installation, shading, system maintenance, reduction in the efficiency of the PV panels as they age, and other loss factors.

4. What Washington State incentives are available for solar photovoltaic PV energy systems?

  • RES offers customers production incentives for eligible solar PV energy systems certified through the Washington State University (WSU) Energy Renewable Energy System Incentive program. Incentives range from $0.16 to $0.21 per kWh for residential-scale systems of 12 kWdc or less up to a maximum annual incentive of $5,000 per system. There are also commercial-scale and community solar project incentives.
  • Incentives per kWh for new systems will decrease according to the year the system is certified. No new systems will be certified after June 30, 2022.
  • RES will make incentive payments for each individual system annually for 8 years from the year of system certification or until the cumulative incentive payments reach 50% of the total system cost.
  • Washington State law RCW 82.16.165 requires RES to suspend incentive payments for new systems when we reach annual incentive payments totaling $805,000, which is 1.5% of our 2014 calendar year power sales.
  • The WSU Energy Incentive Program will be suspended when the total of all Renewable Energy Systems incentives in the State of Washington reaches $110 million.

5. What federal incentives are there for solar PV energy systems?

The federal solar tax credit, officially known as the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), is available until December 31, 2019, for up to 30% of the total system cost. The credit decreases in subsequent years – 26% for tax year 2020 and 22% for tax year 2021 – and expires December 31, 2021. See www.irs.gov, or contact your tax advisor for details.

6. Can I sell electricity my system produces to the City if I am not using it for my home?  If so, what    will the City utility pay me?

Yes, this practice is called “net metering.” RES will install at no cost to you a meter that measures the net difference between energy delivered to you and received from your system over a monthly billing cycle. If the amount of energy you produce is greater than the amount you use, we apply a credit of $0.0686 per kWh, the current Residential Rate energy charge, to the energy portion of your bill.

7. How many solar PV systems have been installed in Richland?

As of June 30, 2018, 154 systems have been installed. The system sizes range from 3 kWdc to 10 kWdc.

8. What permits are required to install a PV system?

All systems require a Washington State Department of Labor and Industries electrical permit and in some cases a City building permit. The Renewable Energy Electric Generating System Application has everything you need to know about the permitting and incentive application process.

9. I know that RES promotes energy efficiency as the most cost-effective way to meet electricity          needs. How do energy efficiency technology costs compare to solar PV energy systems costs?

Great question! For electric utilities energy efficiency is less expensive per kWh than building new, central generating resources like wind projects or natural gas combustion turbines to meet the increasing demand for electricity.

In most cases energy efficiency is less expensive per kWh than solar. While efficiency alone can’t “produce” electricity, doing energy efficiency and solar together decreases costs by decreasing consumption. Energy efficiency enables customers to install smaller, less expensive solar energy systems so solar can meet a higher percentage of your home’s electricity consumption. You can learn more about how energy efficiency and solar can work together from the American Council for and Energy-Efficient Economy (ACCEE).

10. Does the City have incentives for installing efficiency measures?

Yes, RES offers rebates and low-interest loans to qualified residential customers for efficient HVAC equipment and weatherization measures including insulation, windows, and doors. We also offer a program specifically designed for low-income customers and incentives for commercial and industrial customers doing lighting and custom projects. Learn more at our Energy Efficiency website.

11. What other things should I consider about a solar PV energy system?

Solar PV energy systems won’t power your home during a power outage. RES’ distribution system is designed to provide reliable service and keep our personnel safe and equipment protected. As such, your home is interconnected to our system, and this prevents your home from operating as an “island” during a power outage.

12. What are the best resources for additional information on Solar Energy Systems?

Thanks for asking such great questions. Check out the resources below to learn more.

Definitions

Solar Energy – Radiant energy emitted by the sun. Sometimes people use the term solar energy when they really mean solar power.

Solar Power – Power obtained by harnessing the energy of the sun.

Photovoltaic – Refers to the process of converting sunlight to electricity. PV cells, or solar cells, are components that do the conversion.

Net Metering – Refers to the metering capability of a generation resource that accounts for the net difference between electricity being used (delivered to the customer) and generated (received from the customer). RES provides billing credits for excess, or net, production during a billing period.

Resources

Richland Energy Serviceswww.ci.richland.wa.us/EnergyServices - Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Programs

WSU Energy Program - Renewable Energy System Incentive Program

Solar Washingtonwww.solarwa.org – Solar information specific to Washington State; Consumer Questions to ask to determine if a solar project and contractor are right for you.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)www.nrel.govPVWatts® PV production calculator

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable EnergyHomeowner’s Guide to Going Solar

Federal Trade Commissionwww.consumer.ftc.govSolar power for your home 

Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)www.irecusa.orgConsumer Protection Checklist