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California Solar Initiative: the SASH program

The Golden State has always been a front-runner when it comes to solar energy. California is consistently ranked as the top state for solar when it comes to both jobs and installed capacity. Much of their original growth in solar has been due to the California Solar Initiative (CSI). Enacted in 2006, CSI was designed to provide upfront rebates for residential and commercial property owners purchasing solar panel systems. The rebates were available for customers of three utility companies: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).

This initiative is a part of California’s larger “Go Solar California” campaign, and had an initial goal to reach approximately 1,940 megawatts (MW) of new solar generation capacity from 2007 until 2016. Because of its success, the majority of the money available for the rebates was quickly used up and hasn’t been available to many utility customers for years. But, that doesn’t mean CSI is dead. In an effort to further stimulate the growth of solar in within the state, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decided to allocate no less than 10% of CSI’s funds to programs committed to providing solar electric systems to low-income households. Thus came about the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH): a favorable rebate that continues to make an impact today.

SASH: an important component of the California Solar Initiative

SASH is a part of the California Solar Initiative designed to help low-income residents go solar by decreasing the upfront investment of purchasing a solar panel system. The original budget for the SASH program was $108.34 million. In 2015, the CPUC chose to add onto that with an additional $54 million in funding. The program is set to continue until the end of 2021, or until all the available money allocated has been exhausted.

There are certain criteria you need to meet in order to be eligible for this incentive:

  1. You must be a customer of PG&E, SCE, or SDG&E

  2. The home you’re installing panels on must be your primary residence

  3. Your home must be defined as “affordable housing,” according to California Public Utilities (P.U. Code 2852)

  4. Your total household income must be 80 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI).

If you meet these eligibility requirements for this rebate, you can receive $3 a watt for a maximum system size of 5 kilowatts (kW), or 5,000 watts. Homeowners also need to install more than 1 kW of solar capacity in order to receive this incentive.

How is the rebate calculated?

It’s worth noting that the rebate calculation is based on the California Energy Commission’s alternating current (CEC-AC) rating of the system, not the direct current (DC) rating as with many rebates available in other solar markets. The CEC-AC ratings take into account the performance of the system and the equipment in its true conditions. It gives a realistic rating to the output of your solar panel system, rather than its overall capacity to produce power in a testing scenario (such as with the DC rating).

The CEC-AC rating of your system will depend on a number of factors, including the equipment, how many panels you install, tilt and azimuth of the array, and any shading that may be on your roof. As an example, let’s say you’re considering installing a 3 kW system (which is the average system size installed in the SASH program). If you install on a due-south roof with minimal shading, standard efficiency equipment at a 30-degree tilt in southern California, your solar panel system will have a CEC-AC rating of roughly 2.6 kW. At $3 a watt for 2,600 watts, this would mean an upfront rebate of $7,800. The average cost of the 3 kW ranges from $8,837 to $11,527 before tax credits and other incentives. If you were on the lower end of that range, your solar panel system would cost roughly $1,037 before other available incentives.

Keep in mind that a CEC-AC rating of 2.6 kW does not mean you should expect only 2,600 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of solar production annually. In fact, a 3 kW system in southern California with a CEC-AC rating of 2.6 kW will produce roughly 5,000 kWh a year. Learn more about how production estimates are calculated, or try out the Go Solar California calculator to get an estimate of the CEC-AC rating for your proposed solar panel system.

Recent updates to SASH (plus more)

In June of 2018, the CPUC announced that it would continue to incentivize solar installations in low-income housing through the Disadvantaged Communities-Single-family Solar Homes (DAC-SASH) program. This program will be modeled after the existing SASH program and continue to provide the same upfront rebates of $3 per watt up for eligible homeowners while also providing additional assistance in regards to raising capital for the installation or accessing financing. In addition, the eligibility for the DAC-SASH is broader than compared to the traditional SASH program. You no longer have to live in a household designated as “affordable housing,” which will allow this new program to help even more people go solar. This revitalized program will have $10 million in funds available annually until 2030.

In addition to approving DAC-SASH this past June, the CPUC decided to adopt two additional programs designed to help disadvantaged community members. The two other programs are geared towards low-income community members who aren’t installing solar on their roof. One is the Disadvantaged Communities- Green Tariff (DAC-Green Tariff). This incentive program provides a 20 percent discount off electricity bills for customers in disadvantaged communities who opt into a clean energy option through their utility. The third program adopted by the CPUC is the Community Solar Green Tariff program, which will also provide a 20 percent discount to people who participate in a community solar arrangement. The DAC-Green Tariff and the Community Solar Green Tariff program will be a good option for you if don’t have the upfront capital necessary to put panels on their own roof, or if your roof isn’t suitable for a solar panel installation.

Start saving with solar today

Solar is a great investment for homeowners in California, whether you’re eligible for the SASH program or not. The average homeowner in California sees a payback period of roughly six years when purchasing a solar panel system. If you can take advantage of the SASH rebate, the payback period will be even shorter.

If you’re interested in seeing what you can save in electricity bills by going solar, sign up on the EnergySage Marketplace. You can get multiple quotes from reputable, local solar installers for free. If you’re interested in the SASH program specifically, simply note it in your account so installers can include information about it in their proposal. If you’d prefer to start investigating your solar options with quick numbers on cost and savings, try our Solar Calculator.

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