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No wait for that Delaware solar rebate

Residential projects are first in line for stimulus funds

By AARON NATHANS • The News Journal • May 31, 2010

Delawareans who have installed solar panels will no longer have to wait years for their state rebate checks.

About $1.3 million in federal stimulus funds will allow the state to clear much of the solar rebate waiting list, which had grown to 18 months to two years, said Collin O’Mara, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

The average rebate will be between $6,000 and $12,000, O’Mara said.

The 133 residential rebate applications for renewable energy projects that are verified as complete will be the first to get checks, O’Mara said.

The state could issue the checks in the next month or two, O’Mara said. That’s a combined rebate value of $1.75 million, he noted.

Owners of six completed commercial solar projects also will get checks totaling $445,000, he said.

The stimulus money will be supplemented with funds moved over from a state research and development demonstration program, he said. The funds allotted to the program had not been awarded for this year, freeing up the money, O’Mara said.

Another 87 residential applications are due about $680,000 of rebates, and 14 commercial rebate applications valued at $1.1 million, are for projects close to completion, and any leftover funds will go toward those, he said.

In addition to solar energy projects, the state program also covers geothermal and small wind projects.

One change is that the the rules for the federal stimulus program require the solar rebate recipients to get an energy audit of their building, O’Mara said.

The Sustainable Energy Utility, a state-organized nonprofit group, will subsidize much of that cost, he said.

“We’re committed to making good on every promise that was made to residents or businesses that have put up solar or other renewable technology,” O’Mara said.

For those who haven’t started their applications at all, the state is considering a new program to allow residents and businesses to finance solar panels using renewable energy credits, O’Mara said.

The existing rebate program used to cover up to 50 percent of the cost of buying and installing solar panels on a home of a Delmarva Power customer.

But last year, the popularity of the program caused state officials to scale back the size of new rebates to 25 percent.

The state benefit shrunk as the federal rebates grew. The federal government offers a 30 percent rebate which used to be capped at $2,000. That cap was lifted last year.

The SEU two weeks ago also announced a new slate of the initiatives that take advantage of federal stimulus money.

The new programs include the Delaware Home Star program, which will offer rebates on heating, cooling, and hot water equipment, as well as insulation and weatherization.

The rebates will likely be 50 cents for every dollar invested, allowing homeowners to pay off investments in half the time, O’Mara said.

Homeowners will need an energy audit to participate in the program, which is expected to be up and running in June, he said.

An SEU program to offer financing and rebates to businesses and nonprofit organizations is expected to begin June 15. The loans, for up to $250,000, are to be invested in efficiency and small-scale renewables and can be repaid in up to 10 years, the SEU said.

The SEU, set up several years ago by the General Assembly, gets its own money from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a cap-and-trade system designed to reduce carbon pollution, as well as bond issues.