Greenwire: Bulk pricing drives 1,500 Chicagoans to sign up for rooftop PV systems

Since its July 9 launch, the “Solar Chicago” program has secured contracts for
more than 60 kilowatts of new solar installations, according to organizers,
significantly more than initially projected. The program expects to secure contracts
for 100 kilowatts of rooftop photovoltaic capacity before the Sept. 30 registration
deadline, generating further savings for program participants.
More than 1,500 Chicago-area homeowners have signed up to install rooftop solar
panels for as much as 25 percent below market rates under a new program
spearheaded by the city of Chicago, Vote Solar, the World Wildlife Fund and the
Environmental Law and Policy Center.
“With a month to go, over 1,500 people have signed for @GoSolarChicago,
doubling our original goal! Thank you Chicago!” the city’s sustainability office
tweeted yesterday in response to the brisk level of interest.
The program, which aims to lower costs through bulk sales of solar panels, allows
zero-down financing to homeowners in Chicago and neighboring municipalities,
who will in turn see immediate savings on electric bills via net metering,
organizers of the program say.
But the key to the program’s success is the group-discounted pricing, which
provides solar at as much as 25 percent below market rates, according to Kacie
Peters, area sales manager for MicroGrid Solar of St. Louis, one of two solar firms
acting as lead contractors for the Chicago solar installations, along with Juhl
Energy Inc. of Pipestone, Minn.
“This program, when combined with state incentives and the federal tax credit, is
the best deal on solar anyone is likely to see for a long time,” Peters said in a
statement. Federal tax credits for solar energy provide up to 30 percent of the cost
of installing a rooftop PV system.
For program participants taking advantage of federal tax benefits, a typical 3-
kilowatt PV system could be purchased for just over $10,000, with an expected
payoff period of seven years, according to program officials.
Additionally, the Illinois energy office this week began accepting applications for a
renewable energy rebate program that pays owners of residential PV systems up to
$1.50 per watt, or 25 percent of project costs.
According to Sarah Wochos, the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s colegislative
director and Solar Chicago coordinator, participants in the program’s
core area of Chicago and nearby suburbs are receiving solar for $3.49 per watt.
“We’ve never seen anything like that in Chicago unless you’re making the panels
yourself,” she said in a telephone interview.
Participants in greater Cook County and outlying counties will see base installation
costs of between $3.59 and $3.79 per watt, not including federal and state tax
credits.
Karen Weigert, Chicago’s chief sustainability officer, said the program’s chief goal
has been to jump-start solar installations in the city and surrounding areas. “We
think of this as a way to bring more people into thinking about solar as an option,”
she said in a statement. “And as the market gets stronger with more installations
happening in Chicago, we expect there to be more and more growth.”
The program also seeks to help homeowners overcome financial and logistical
hurdles associated with solar power, including residents who perceive electricity as
a fixed cost over which they have little control.
Solar Chicago is primarily targeted to owners of single-family homes and
duplexes, but multifamily buildings are also eligible to participate with some
restrictions, according to organizers.
“It’s been very diverse in terms of geography in and around the Chicagoland area,”
Wochos said. “We’ve seen a great response from all walks of life and from
different parts of the city. But it’s just one step in trying to build a market [for solar
power] here, and it won’t be the last.”

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