LA QUINTA — The Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors meeting in La Quinta voted Tuesday to cut in half the rebates it will give to customers who install solar panels on their roofs this year.
That could mean hundreds of customers expecting a $1-per-watt rebate to install new systems will now only be eligible for a rebate of 50 cents per watt.
With the $1-per-watt rate, a customer planning a 10-kilowatt system would have gotten a $10,000 rebate, but now will receive $5,000.
Rebate rates for commercial installations of 30 kilowatts or more, which are based on a system’s actual performance, were also halved from 10 cents per kilowatt hour to 5 cents per kilowatt hour.
But the board’s unanimous decision also means that, after this year’s nosedive, the rebate rate will stay at 50 cents per watt for the next three years, until the state-mandated rebate program ends in 2016. The previous plan called for successive decreases in rebate rates, from $1 per watt in 2014, to 75 cents per watt in 2015 and 50 cents per watt in 2016.
Board Vice President Stephen Benson proposed the changes at Tuesday’s meeting in La Quinta, arguing they would provide an ongoing impetus for more people to go solar and ensure IID meets a state-mandated goal of installing 44 megawatts of rooftop solar by the end of 2016.
To date, the rebate program has put only 10 megawatts of solar on roofs in the district’s service territory, which covers the eastern Coachella Valley — including La Quinta, Indio and Coachella — along with Imperial County and parts of San Diego County.
IID originally set its 2014 rebate at $1.55 per watt, announced in October, but then cut it to $1 per watt in January, also to help more people go solar, district officials said at the time.
Commercial rates were cut at that time, from 15 cents per kilowatt hour to 10 cents per kilowatt hour.
The district had announced it would distribute $5,029,851 in solar rebates this year. IID officials said about 230 homeowners and businesses had applied for the rebates at the January rates earlier this year and it is unclear if now some might have to reapply.
For those who might be disappointed by the last-minute change, Benson said the district’s program does allow it to change rebate rates, and even at 50 cents, IID’s rebate will be higher than the rates other utilities offer.
Southern California Edison’s 20-cents-per-watt rate is on the verge of running out entirely, according to information on the California Solar Initiative website, which tracks rebates at the state’s three main private utilities.
Other amendments could change how IID apportions the total rebates. Instead of the district’s long-standing system of awarding rebates on a first-come, first-served basis, it will now establish regional percentages with a certain amount, still to be determined, reserved for Imperial County.
“All the ratepayers should have the ability to get money out of it,” Benson said. “We would want to prorate to each county.”
In 2013, 96 percent of the applications for solar rebates came from the Coachella Valley versus 4 percent from Imperial County, district figures show.
Indio Councilwoman Lupe Ramos Watson, who sits on the IID Energy Consumers Advisory Committee, said such figures underline the valley’s need for a dedicated seat on the IID board, which it currently does not have. All five board members represent districts in Imperial County.
“This will significantly impact Coachella Valley consumers,” she said. “Historically we’re the majority of the energy consumers in the Imperial Irrigation District. We are the ones who have been proactive in installing solar. It seems counterproductive to change the rules midstream.”