EL CENTRO – In January 2013, Citizens Energy began installing rooftop solar collectors atop the homes of selected low-income households in the Imperial Valley. Matt Pearlson of Citizen’s Energy reported to the Imperial County supervisors Tuesday.
The solar systems are purchased, installed and maintained at no cost to the homeowner, with all the savings coming right off the family’s electricity bill. When asked what a homeowner with the solar system fully installed paid, Pearlson said, “The homeowner paid $3.00 last month.”
The solar system reduces a homeowner’s electricity costs by an average of 40 percent to 50 percent.
However, the actual savings depend on a number of factors, including the household’s electric usage and the size of solar system. The homeowner signs a 20-year lease, which Citizens Energy pre-pays in full. To be eligible for the solar benefit, households must have received a free energy audit and weatherization services (from either Imperial Irrigation District or SoCal Gas) to ensure the most efficient use of the electricity produced by the solar system.
Pearlson said Citizens Energy will use local labor as much as possible to install about 100 systems a year, until reaching 1000 units. He said they have chosen to pay higher labor rates than the local going rate.
Pearlson said their organization is still taking low-income homeowners in Imperial County and they can request an application by phone or email. To request an application by phone, call 1-855- 467-8646. To request an application by email, email@example.com and include your name, address and phone number in the message.
Applicants are encouraged to enroll in REAP before applying to the Solar Homes Program. To be directed to the Imperial Irrigation District’s REAP webpage, click here.
IID customers can pay extra for solar-supplied power
However, according to community solar supporters in California, at least 75 percent of households in the state cannot install panels of their own either because they rent, cannot afford a system or don’t have an appropriate roof.
But efforts to create statewide shared renewable programs have had a rough ride due to opposition from large utilities. Lobbying efforts by Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison are credited with the September demise of a 2012 bill that would have allowed utility customers to buy into community solar or wind projects of up to 20 megawatts and take a credit on their bills for the power. PG&E argued that such pricing of projects would not cover its costs for maintaining its transmission system, thus burdening non-solar customers. The utilities also objected to provisions in the bill that would not allow them to count community solar projects toward their state-mandated 33 percent renewable energy targets for 2020. Two new bills have now been introduced in the state Legislature, Assembly Bill 1014 and Senate Bill 43, once again attempting to establish a shared renewables program that would allow utility customers to offset part or all of their electric bills through community solar or wind projects.
There is a possibility Imperial Irrigation District customers may get their power from a community solar project on the campus of San Diego State University’s Imperial Valley Brawley campus, but at a price slightly higher than their normal rates.
The 5-megawatt project, the first of its kind in the region, will cover about 40 acres on the Imperial Valley Brawley campus, but home or business customers anywhere in IID’s service territory will be able to sign up to buy power from the plant, district officials told the Energy Consumers Advisory Committee at a recent meeting.
When completed, it will generate enough electricity to power 1,935 homes. NRG officials were not able to provide further project details on Wednesday, including the number of jobs it might create or a timeline for construction and completion.
A small but growing phenomenon across the country, community solar projects are intended to allow individuals or groups who might not be able to install solar panels of their own to buy a portion of a larger plant.
For example, renters or a homeowner whose roof is not appropriate for solar might be potential customers. Similar to solar leases, community solar projects may also offer stable power prices for a set contract term, such as 20 years. The Orlando Utilities Commission recently opened up enrollment for its first community solar project, a 400-kilowatt plant to be built later this year. It quickly sold out, even though customers will pay 1 cent to 3 cents more per kilowatt-hour.
IID will pick up $653,280 of the $1.2 million price tag for connecting the community solar project to the grid. Typically, project developers or owners pay 100 percent of any necessary grid upgrades, interim energy manager Carl Stills said the district wanted to support San Diego State’s energy training center.