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August 5, 2014

MID says solar rebate funds won’t last long

When the Modesto Irrigation District resumes offering solar rebates Jan. 1, the utility expects – once again – to run out of money in four or five months.

When the Modesto Irrigation District resumes offering solar rebates Jan. 1, the utility expects – once again – to run out of money in four or five months.

The utility suffered a public relations black eye when it abruptly shut down rebates after four months this year, leaving vendors and 160 customers in the lurch. Outcry prompted the district to reopen an application period for one week, placating some.

People will get more warning next time, but a surge in solar popularity won’t carry money set aside for rebates very far, MID energy services supervisor Bob Hondeville told the MID board Tuesday.

He recommends halving rebate amounts, in theory allowing twice as many people to participate. Board members will decide when they consider next year’s budget in a few weeks; Tuesday’s presentation came in a budget workshop.

Although most rebates are claimed by homeowners installing panels on roofs, they only make up about a quarter of the $4.2 million set aside. The rest goes to commercial customers who get money based on performance over periods as long as 10 years, reduced to five-year payouts only recently. The more of them, the less is left for home systems.

Board member Paul Campbell railed on state legislation requiring utilities to manage solar incentives, equating it with institutional taking from the poor and giving to the rich. The $4.2 million comes from a portion of all customers’ electricity bills and goes to people willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars in solar technology.

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