Washington looks to re-establish rooftop solar incentive program


From 2017 to 2018, Washington State ran a rooftop solar incentive program which provided $110 million to customers who completed residential and commercial solar energy installations, leading to the installation of nearly 7,500 residential energy systems, 380 commercial energy systems, and more than 100 MW of solar capacity.

In 2018, the $110 million allotted was spent, and the initiative, which was deemed to be a smashing success for bringing more solar to the grid and increasing access for thousands of Washingtonians, was phased out.

Three years after that phasing, Washington Senator Jeff Wilson looks to re-establish that solar incentive program by introducing Senate Bill 5493 in the state’s upcoming legislative session.

Like the original legislation, the incentive program would be administered by Washington State University’s (WSU) Energy Program. It would focus on encouraging residents to add solar or upgrade their existing solar installations, though the program could cover any renewable energy work.

Rather than provide an upfront credit, customers who put solar on their home or business, or who decide to organize a rooftop community solar project, must buy the components for their system and then apply to the WSU Energy Program their system’s approval. Once the project is completed and operational, the incentive will be paid each year based on the amount of power generated, with annual incentive caps.

Incentives are capped at $5,000 annually, per participant, for community solar participants, $5,000 annual for residential customers, $25,000 annually for individual commercial system owners, and up to $35,000 per owner, annually, for commercial installations with multiple owners.

If the bill passes the legislature, it will take effect on July 1. Customers with existing incentivized systems would remain on their existing payment plan at their current rates. Customers who choose to retrofit an existing system with additional panels would be issued a new incentive rate, but would still be on the same payment timeline and phase-out date of their original installation.

In his climate and energy budget proposal, released earlier this month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee outlined $100 million for solar installation and energy storage grants. The focus of those grants would be supporting government agencies and municipalities.

Each proposition looks to propel Washington towards its goal of requiring the state to adopt 100% carbon-free power by 2045, as well as phasing out coal by 2025 and requiring all electricity sales to be carbon-neutral by 2030. This portfolio standard was passed by the legislature and signed by Inslee in 2019.

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