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Meanwhile, states are adding or increasing their solar energy incentives. The subsidies include low-interest loan programs, sales tax exemptions and property tax exemptions for additional property value due to the installation of solar equipment. But you get the most bang for your solar buck from direct state rebates and tax credits.


In Connecticut, for example, since last October, homeowners can get up to $25,000 back from the state, up to $5 per watt for a maximum five-kilowatt photovoltaic system. (That's a pretty generous subsidy considering that the typical home photovoltaic system costs $8 per watt installed.) New York just passed an increase in its solar tax credits, effective Jan.1, 2006. The cap for New York's 25% credit will rise to $5,000, up from $3,750—and that's in addition to utility rebates, which offset system costs by 40% to 70%.

 

Then there's California, home to most of last year's 90 megawatts of solar projects. When the state legislature returns to work on Sept. 15, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Million Solar Roofs legislation will be back on the agenda. The goal: adding 3,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2018, primarily by providing $2.80-per-watt rebates.

 

In the meantime, the solar industry is preparing to lobby to extend the federal breaks beyond the two-year window. "We're not trying to be a subsidized industry forever," says Resch, "but without longer-term incentives that provide market stability, we won't see manufacturing grow substantially in the U.S."


More information


Interested in claiming a credit? Act fast. To hold down the projected cost, Congress authorized the solar credits for only two years—from Jan. 1, 2006 through Dec. 31, 2007.

 

Under the new law, businesses that buy solar equipment can claim a federal tax credit equal to 30% of the equipment's cost, with no dollar limit on how big the credit can be. (In 2008, the credit reverts back to today's 10% of cost level.) Solar system incentives

 

A two-kilowatt system that meets most of the needs of a highly energy-efficient home should cost $16,000 to $20,000 installed, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (http://www.nrel.gov).


A five-kilowatt system for a more typical home should cost twice that but would eliminate the home’s electricity bills. The lab offers a consumers’ guide to solar power (see http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35297.pdf for more information).

 

In addition to the new federal tax credits, almost every state offers a smorgasbord of incentives, such as property and sales tax exemptions, income-tax credits and deductions, and subsidized loans. You can find a database of state incentives here: http://www.dsireusa.org/index.cfm



 
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