The California Solar Initiative: The SASH program

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The Golden State has always been a front-runner regarding solar energy. California is consistently ranked as the top solar state for 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 part of California's larger "Go Solar California" campaign and initially aimed to reach approximately 1,940 megawatts (MW) of new solar generation capacity from 2007 until 2016. Because of its success, most 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. To further stimulate the growth of solar 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.

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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 to 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 specific criteria you need to meet to be eligible for this incentive:

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

  • The home you're installing panels on must be your primary residence

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

  • Your 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 must also install more than 1 kW of solar capacity to receive this incentive.

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 consider the system's performance and the equipment in its actual 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 several factors, including the equipment, how many panels you install, the tilt and azimuth of the array, and any shading on your roof. For example, let's say you're considering installing a 3 kW system (the average system size installed in the SASH program). If you install it on a due-south roof with minimal shading and 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.

Remember 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. 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 estimate the CEC-AC rating for your proposed solar panel system.

In June 2018, the CPUC announced it would continue incentivizing 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 for eligible homeowners while also providing additional assistance in 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," allowing 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 adopted two additional programs to help disadvantaged community members. The two other programs are geared towards low-income community members who aren't installing solar on their roofs. One is the Disadvantaged Communities- Green Tariff (DAC-Green Tariff). This incentive program provides a 20 percent discount on 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 are good options if you don't have the upfront capital necessary to put panels on your own roof or if your roof isn't suitable for a solar panel installation.

Solar is an excellent 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. The payback period will be even shorter if you can take advantage of the SASH rebate.

If you want to see 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, 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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