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City of Lodi to offer $450,000 in solar rebates in 2014

City to set $210,000 aside for residential solar energy systems

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Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 12:00 am

If you want to save money on your utility bill, the city of Lodi Electric Utility suggests going solar.

The Electric Utility will offer $450,000 in rebates to customers who install solar — or photovoltaic — systems that meet city standards in 2014.

Business development manager Rob Lechner and Electric Utility director Liz Kirkley presented an update of the Lodi Solar Program at a 7 a.m. shirtsleeve session of the Lodi City Council at Carnegie Forum on Tuesday.

Lechner said that of the $450,000 available in rebates, $210,000 will be earmarked for residential solar energy systems. The remaining $240,000 will be reserved for commercial and industrial systems, he said.

Customers can submit rebate applications from Jan. 1 to 31. Rebates for both residential and non-residential customers are $1.80 per watt, Lechner said, and are capped at 50 percent of a project’s cost.

The maximum rebate a residential applicant can receive is $7,000, and the maximum for commercial or industrial applicants is $40,000, he said.

Rebates for residents will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and Lechner said the $210,000 reserved for those customers will be available for 31 applicants.

If more than 31 applications are received by Jan. 31, the city will hold a lottery to determine which customers will be offered rebates.

Solar energy systems must meet state standards, as well as city and Lodi Electric standards, in order to receive rebates. Standards include an appropriate panel orientation, tilt of panels and system warranties, according to www.lodielectric.com.

In addition, customers must perform a Lodi Electric Utility energy audit and obtain the proper building permits.

Systems may only be installed after the building permits are given to customers, who can either install the systems themselves or use a solar contractor.

Council members debated the legitimacy of many contractors Tuesday morning.

Councilman Larry Hansen suggested the city vet solar companies in the area and provide residents with a list of certified, licensed contractors in order to avoid scams.

Hansen said he doesn’t want Lodi residents to pay for systems that ultimately do not work as advertised, or have residents pay for a system that never gets installed, among other scams that might be used.

“I can see people becoming victims of fraud here,” he said. “We need to at least look at the whole process of how these companies are licensed, and help people avoid getting ripped off.”

But Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce said the city should not create a “city-approved” list of solar contractors.

She said if customers hire a company on the city’s “approved” list and aren’t happy with the service or product, city staff will be faced with complaints.

“We cannot tell people they can only use certain companies,” she said. “We could provide a list of all kinds of solar contractors in the area, let them choose for themselves, and live with any consequences, if there are any.”

Lechner said there are currently fewer than 10 licensed solar contractors in the area, two of which — REC Solar and Synergy Companies — are based in Lodi.

Lodi Electric has links to www.findsolar.com and www.energy.ca.gov on its website, which direct applicants to licensed solar contractors.

The city began the Lodi Solar Program in 2007, as required by California Senate Bill 1. Approved in 2006, SB1 requires all electric service providers to provide solar incentives such as rebates.

Lechner said Lodi’s requirement is to provide $6.1 million in incentives, and the city on track to do that before 2017, when SB1 is set to expire.

He said Lodi has generated 180 solar customers since the program’s inception, the first of which was California Welding Supply, located at 16 E. Lockeford St. Lechner said Lodi Electric has three applications pending for 2014.

Of the 180 current customers, 150, are residential, Lechner said. Solar energy systems vary in size and power as well, he said, with the smallest generating 0.7 kilowatts.

The largest system in Lodi is used by Meehleis Modular Buildings Inc. at 1303 E. Lodi Ave., which includes rooftop solar panels and generates 190 kilowatts per hour, according to Lechner.

He said all 180 customers are on the state’s Net Metering Program, which allows a customer to receive a financial credit for power generated by their system and fed back to the city utility department. The credit is then used to offset a customer’s electric bill.

“How it works is, a customer will have a meter placed in their system ports,” Lechner said. “If the customer is using energy from (Lodi Electric), the meter spins forward. If they’re using energy from the sun, it spins backward. In the event that a customer has generated more energy than consumed from us, we will cut them a check.”

He added that only one customer has ever generated more energy than the city has provided, but in all other instances, customers have seen lower electric bills.

Lechner said the city issued more than $3 million in rebates between when the solar program was started through Nov. 1.

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