Rooftop solar is expensive. 11 Triangle governments are trying to drive prices down.

·4 min read
Travis Long/tlong@newsobserver.com

Eleven local governments are participating in a program that tries to drive down the cost of rooftop solar installation through, effectively, a Groupon campaign.

Solarize the Triangle is an effort being undertaken by local governments that want to see solar panels become more affordable. By having dozens of customers sign up at once, they hope to cut down on the price of solar installation.

“The solarize model takes advantage of the idea that the more people who are buying something the more power they have to demand a lower price,” said Emily Barrett, environment and resilience program manager for the Triangle J Council of Governments.

Pricing for the program works in eight tiers, with people who sign up in the first 100 kilowatts of installed solar paying higher up-front prices and receiving larger rebates at the end of the year based on the total amount of panels installed by the end of the program.

Those rebates ensure that everyone will pay the same price per watt of installed solar, organizers said. Those who agree to install solar before the end of the year will also be eligible for a tax credit totaling 26% of the price of installing their system — an incentive that offers a slight advantage to people who sign up earlier and pay higher up-front costs for their system.

Under the solar program, a customer who signs up to add solar panels in the first 100 kilowatts will pay $3.02 per watt, or $24,160 for an 8 kilowatt system. That customer would receive a federal tax credit of $6,282 and then be eligible for a rebate at the end of the program based on the amount of solar installed, with the potential maximum amount totaling $2,960.

If the program reaches at least 1,500 kilowatts of installed solar, customers beyond that would pay $2.65 per watt, or $21,200 for an 8 kilowatt system. That customer would also be eligible for a federal tax credit of $5,512 based on their installation cost.

“We definitely think any amount of incentive is welcome because again it helps bring that barrier down for people to enter,” Barrett said.

Governments participating in the campaign are the Town of Apex, the Town of Carrboro, the Town of Cary, the Town of Chapel Hill, Chatham County, the City of Raleigh, Durham County, the City of Durham, the Town of Hillsborough, the Town of Morrisville and Orange County. They are all part of the Triangle Sustainability Partnership, which is coordinated through the Triangle J Council of Governments.

Residents who live outside of the boundaries of the 11 participating governments will not be able to participate in this round of the solarize program. The Council of Governments hopes to run another round of the solarize program next summer, Barrett said, and has already received interest from additional governments in the area.

The governments selected Yes Solar Solutions as the project’s contractor after conducting a request for proposals.

During a kickoff event at the N.C. Museum of Art, Yes Solar co-owner Kathy Miller said the company has worked on seven previous solarize campaigns, leaving it prepared for the expected demand. According to Solarize the Triangle’s website, 202 people have registered for a free evaluation from Yes Solar.

“There’s a lot of people that have already signed up and we’re ready for it, but it’s a lot of people,” Miller said.

The City of Raleigh has dedicated $210,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to the Solarize campaign, City Councilman Patrick Buffkin said. Those funds are earmarked to help subsidize installations for people who earn low to middle incomes.

“That’s a part of our commitment to equity and inclusion throughout our community as a part of our effort to promote clean energy and reduce our impact on the environment,” said Buffkin, who represents a North Raleigh District and is seeking a seat in the N.C. Senate.

A similar program in and around Asheville led to 180 rooftop solar systems that provide 1.45 megawatts of power. Solar CrowdSource estimated that the new systems in Asheville would result in $251,215 in savings each year.

Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver said her family installed rooftop solar during a 2014 solarize campaign in Orange County.

“Any opportunity we have to bring the price point down is one we should take advantage of, and so I think that this is a terrific way for all the communities in this (council of governments) to come together and make that more possible,” Weaver said.

This year’s campaign will end on December 31, with homeowners who have agreed to participate by then having three additional months and commercial installations having six additional months to finalize contracts.

This story was produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.