Your 2018 guide to going solar in Texas
This page is a complete guide to the complicated and sometimes confusing process of installing solar panels on your Texas home. Since there's a lot to consider, we've separated the page into sections to help you find what you are looking for. If you find this page useful, please share it with someone who might also find it interesting!
** What's new for 2018 **
Solar in the Lone Star State is great in 2018... unless you're thinking about going solar in El Paso.
See, El Paso residents who install solar panels are now on the hook to pay a minimum monthly bill of $30, which takes a bite out of their potential savings. The good news is people who already went solar in El Paso won't be subject to the new monthly fees until at least January, 2038.
As for the rest of the state: other cities and utility companies have not yet imposed fees on new solar owners, and some places like Austin and Dallas still have solar rebates available.
If you're thinking about going solar in Texas, it might be time to act before your utility company changes the deal. Connect with a Texas solar expert to take advantage of current rates and get solar installed for as little as $0 down.
The Solar Strategy section is focused on the 3 ways of paying for solar in Texas, so you can decide which is best for you. We've created a tool that asks you a few questions and recommends whether you should pursue a solar lease, loan, or outright purchase. Then, we provide detailed analysis of how each works.
The Solar, Step by Step section is a guide to everything that happens from before you get solar quotes to the time when the panels are on your roof and you're getting ready to claim that sweet solar tax credit.
The Policy Information section contains all our latest research on the rules set by lawmakers in Sacramento and the Public Utilities Commission, which determine how easy it is to go solar in Texas. These policies and rules govern everything from renewable energy mandates to interconnection, and have a huge effect on the viability of solar.
Finally, the Solar Incentives section includes information about money-back rebates and grants, tax credits, and tax exemptions for going solar in Texas.
Click any of the boxes below to go to that section of the page, or scroll down to read the page in order.
|Your Texas Solar Strategy|
|Texas Solar, Step by Step|
|Texas Solar Policy Information|
|Texas Solar Incentives|
|Your Texas Solar Strategy|
|Your 3 Options for Going Solar|
|Solar PPAs in Texas|
|Solar Loans in Texas|
|Buying Solar in Texas|
|How to know if solar is right for you|
|Texas Solar, Step by Step|
|Getting & Comparing Quotes|
|Financing Your System|
|Signing a Contract, & What Comes After|
|Installation, Inspection, & Interconnection|
|Operation, Maintenance & Claiming the Tax Credit|
|Texas Solar Policy Information|
|Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)|
|RPS Solar Carve-Out|
Your Solar Strategy in Texas
Figuring out the best way to go solar in Texas can be a little daunting. From loans and leases to power-purchase agreements, there are a lot of options out there. To help you pick the one that might be best, we've created the handy decision tool below.
We'll ask you a few simple questions about you and your home. Once you're done, we'll recommend a good option. Further down this page, we provide cost estimates and example return-on-investment calculations for all the various options:
Your 3 Options for Going Solar in Texas
The chart above shows the 25-year returns for an investment in solar whether you choose to purchase a system with cash or pay over time with a loan or lease. One thing it's important to note is: solar makes you a lot of money in Texas. Yes, we said "makes!" You see, Texas gets so much sun, its relatively low electricity prices are no match for the awesome energy-generating ability of solar panels. Going solar in Texas starts paying off right away, and with great state and federal tax credits, solar has never been cheaper.
Now, because of the state's deregulated energy marketplace, it's a little more difficult to write this kind of one-size-fits-all review of the potential for solar. For one thing, there are some places where you can buy electricity from two dozen different companies, and some places, where you have to purchase it from your city's municipal energy company. That means you might get a better deal per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in Dallas, but you might get a bigger rebate on solar in Austin or San Antonio. So we've tried to use examples that are very neutral and use conservative estimates for how much you're paying.
Now let's discuss that chart above. We've examined three scenarios for going solar in Texas, including a solar lease, buying solar with a home equity line of credit (HELOC), or buying solar with cash. As you can see, the cash purchase option leads to the highest dollar-amount returns over time, but look a little closer. Taking a HELOC and paying for the system over time (the orange bars) means you'll spend thousands of dollars less over time, while reaping a big financial benefit in year 1.
That's because you take a loan for the system, but you still get all the benefits of paying up front. In Texas, that means a 30% federal tax credit, and big annual energy savings. With those incentives, you'll actually come out way ahead after the first year. And even though you'll be making loan payments for 15 years, the first-year windfall is so big, you'll only begin spending your own money in year 9.
Finally, take a look at the blue bars. They represent a solar lease or Power-Purchase Agreement (PPA), which are also called third-party ownership. With a lease or PPA, the solar installation company puts panels on your roof at no cost to you, and you make monthly payments that save you about $11 per month from what you had been paying the utility company for their dirty energy. Leases in Texas are awesome, because the state's high electricity prices mean you start saving money right away. Your savings will start small but finish big, because the lease cost will rise by less than the electric company's annual rate hikes. Third-party ownership is an excellent option even if you have equity or cash to put down, because it can save you tons of money!
Read more below about each of three very good options for solar in Texas.
Option 1: Paying cash for solar
An outright purchase used to be the only way to get solar, and it's still the option that provides the "biggest" financial returns. The reason we put "biggest" in quotes here is because it's technically true—with lower equipment costs and that big Federal tax credit, solar costs less than ever before, and a solar installation pays itself off in 11 years. But if you're interested in solar as an investment, taking a loan to pay for the system is a better option.
With a loan, you can make monthly payments instead of putting $16,000 down on a solar system, which means you save money on electricity as you pay down the cost of your panels. If you have equity in your home or can get a large loan with an interest rate of 5% or less, a loan is the option to go with. It's like being able to start a business that is sure to succeed, just by having a roof. Read about loans below.
If you've got cash and you prefer to pay up front, you'll have to plunk down $16,250, but tax breaks and energy savings will erase a bunch of that after just 1 year. Over 25 years, your system will have produced over $21,000 in income, after your system cost is paid back. The reason this works is that solar offsets your electricity costs—enough to save you $842 in year 1—and it just goes up from there. As the electric company raises rates, you save more and more, and more...
Here’s how the numbers work for a 5-kW rooftop solar system in Texas:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $15,500. That's cheaper than solar has ever been, but it still might seem like a big investment. Don’t worry, because after tax breaks and energy savings, your first-year costs will be considerably less than that.
- The Federal government offers a great income tax credit of 30% of system costs. That's $4,650 you won't be paying to Uncle Sam this year, and it brings your first-year investment down to $10,850
- After that tax credit, we subtract your first year’s energy savings, which we estimate to be $794. That reduces your cost after the first year to only $10,056—a savings of about 35% off the cost of your system. That's a huge cost reduction!
- Those electricity savings will quickly pile up, and your system will pay for itself in year 12. But your panels carry 25-year warranties, and they'll likely keep on kicking out kilowatts for a few decades or more. You'll see a total net profit of $17,232 by the end of that warranty. The internal rate of return for this investment is an amazing 8.8%. That's well above the return of an investment in index funds, and it's more reliable, too!
- And here's a nice bonus to consider: your home's value just increased by $16,848, too—your expected electricity savings over 20 years—and thanks to Texas's property tax exemption for solar, none of that is subject to taxation!.
- In addition to all that cash (and home value), you’ve created some green for the earth as well by not using electricity from fossil fuels. It's like planting 127 trees a year, every year your solar power system is humming.
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in Texas. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar panel system, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 2: Using a loan to pay for solar
You don't need $16,000 sitting around to pay for solar. As long as you have equity in your home, you can still own solar panels and reap all the benefits. Heck, even if you do have the cash, getting a loan to pay for solar is by far the best option when it comes to percentage return on investment.
That’s because, in Texas, using a loan to pay for solar is like investing in a business that's sure to succeed, and also earns you a tax break!. You'll come out thousands ahead this year, and you'll see a spectacular profit over the 25-year life of your system. The reason this works so well is that you're paying over time, but reaping all the benefits now. Your yearly energy savings will offset over half the cost of the loan payments, too, which might sound like it's too good to be true... so let's take a look at the numbers.
A solar purchase like this will make sense for you if the following is true about you and your current situation:
- You can get a home-equity line of credit (HELOC) for $16,250, with a fixed rate of 4.5% or lower and a 15-year repayment period. Don't be put off if you're offered a higher rate. It just means a tiny bit less of the thousands of dollars you'll make with solar.
- You love making money without much risk.
Here’s how the numbers pencil out for a Texas homeowner who makes a solar purchase with a HELOC:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $15,500. That's how big your loan will need to be to cover it.
- The electricity you'll save in the first year of operation would have cost $794, but your annual loan payments will be $1,376, meaning you would spend about $600 on solar this year, but...
- You'll get a huge tax break! Uncle Sam will give you 30% of the cost of your system back as an income tax credit, which in this case means $4,650 you won't be paying the Feds this year.
- Getting that tax credit means you'll come out $4,068 ahead after year 1, and it's pretty smooth sailing from then on out. Your yearly net cost (electricity savings minus loan payments) for solar will be $561 in year 2, and will shrink as the cost of electricity rises but your loan payments don't.
- By the time you've paid off your loan in 2031, you'll see yearly savings of about $1,200. After 25 years, your total profit will be $12,095! Really awesome for a $0-down investment.
- On top of the green that will stay in your pocket, your system will mean green for the environment, too—127 trees-worth, every year!
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in Texas. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar loan, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 3: Buying the electricity, not the panels with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)
PPAs are a great way to go solar if you haven't got stacks of cash or oodles of equity in your home. It's possible to get solar panels for $0 down and see big savings over 20 years!
As for PPAs in Texas: the electricity costs here aren't very high—we're actually a bit lower than the national average—but the sun shines brighter here than almost anywhere else in the country! That means a lease saves you money starting on day 1. For now, the payments on a leased 5-kW solar system should be around $650 per year, but the energy the panels generate will save you $794 per year. That's $142 you get to keep in your pocket this year, just for saying yes to solar!
And those savings will only get larger over time. As the utility company raises rates, your lease costs will go up by a smaller amount, meaning you'll see greater annual savings. Over 20 years, our estimate shows a total savings of $3,991. And the best part is the panels will be owned and maintained by the installation company, so all you have to do is brag to the Joneses down the street about your green habits!
Here's a little more about how a Texas solar PPA works:
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in Texas. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar PPA, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Is solar right for your Texas home?
If you answer “yes” to each of the following questions, you’re probably a good candidate for solar.
- Do you own your home?
- Does your roof get direct sun for most of the day?
- Does your electricity bill bother you (specifically how much you have to pay)?
The ideal home for solar has a south- or west-facing roof that gets little to no shade throughout the day. The roof can be covered with anything from asphalt shingles to clay or slate tiles, but the easiest roofs to work with are asphalt and standing-seam metal roofs.
Even if your home does not completely meet these conditions, you may still see huge savings from going solar. Your installer will take everything into account when providing you with a savings estimate.
We get more in-depth with roof shape, covering, and orientation in two useful articles:
The step-by-step process for going solar in Texas
The most important thing to know about the entire process of going solar is that your solar installer is good at this stuff.
They'll make sure all the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted during the whole process:
- Step 1: Getting and comparing quotes
- Step 2: Financing your system
- Step 3: Sign a contract with an installer, and what comes after
- Step 4: Installation, Inspection & Interconnection
- Step 5: Operation, Maintenance and Claiming the Tax Credit
Step 1: Getting and Comparing Quotes
There are now many slick solar estimate tools online. Some have you draw lines on your roof from satellite imagery to place your panels and explain your savings. Others pit solar companies against each other in an automated battle for your dollars. Others still track the sun over the course of the year to show you your electric production with the panels you just struggled to draw on your roof.
In our view, they're all a waste of time. If you're serious about installing panels, the best way to get an accurate view of your costs and savings is to get actual quotes instead of messing around with these online tools.
After all, you're not a solar PV designer, it's better to let an expert who knows what they're doing use their own fancy tools for you (believe us—they have fancy tools).
Also, nothing beats a human connection from a trusted source. We've been forging relationships with strong partners and installers since 2007. They know what they're doing, and they're good people.
When you complete our form, we'll connect you with them. You’ll quickly get an accurate reflection of how much electricity your roof can make, how much your system will cost, and how long it will take before you see a profit. In Texas, with a loan or PPA, you'll be in the green immediately.
What you should look for in a solar installer
If you seek solar quotes directly from providers without our help, be sure to judge them by the following criteria. All partners in our network are:
- Trained and Skilled - The standard for solar installers is certification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP for short). That means they’ve undergone training and passed tests that ensure they know what they’re doing.
- Experienced - How many solar systems has the company installed? A minimum of 10 is a good number to shoot for, unless you know they company well. Of course, choosing Tesla or Sunrun means you’re with a company that has installed thousands of systems, but their process can seem less personal, and their prices are often higher than smaller companies.
- Well-regarded - Look at reviews of solar providers on Yelp and Google and other review sites. Or simply ask the salesperson to speak with one of the company’s former clients. Solar owners generally love talking about their systems, and you can benefit from their experience.
- Licensed, bonded, and insured - Make sure the installation crew includes a licensed electrician, because if not, that can be a surprise charge to get the system hooked up.And of course, the company you’re going with has to be bonded and insured in case they do any damage to your home.
The solar quote process
Your first contact with one of our solar providers will be over the phone. They’ll take a look at a satellite photo of your roof and verify some simple details about you and your home. Many will be able to provide you a complete estimate without coming to your house. If you prefer, you can review your estimate in person.
Information included in solar quotes
Your quote will include information about how many panels will be used, how much electricity they can produce, your expected savings over time, and more.
- System size - System size isn't just about the square footage the panels will occupy on your roof. In the solar industry, size refers to the number of watts your system can produce in full sun. The average solar panel puts out 250 watts at a time, so your installer would call a system of 20 panels a "5-kW system."
- Energy production - Your solar panels' energy production is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), just like your electricity usage is measured by your utility company. The quote will include an estimate of the average kWh your system will produce per year, and might even show you how the seasons affect expected production by month.
- Cost and incentives - Solar system prices are quoted as "total cost" and "dollars per watt." For example, a 5-kW system that costs $15,500 has a $3.10 cost per watt. These are the first figures to compare what you’re being offered. The installer should also show you the available incentives that being the net cost of the installation down. Everyone is eligible for the federal solar tax credit of 30% of the system's cost, but there may be local incentives available, as well.
Note: if you're considering a PPA, you won't be eligible for incentives, and the cost section will include your expected costs per kWh.
- Equipment - Not all solar panels are created equal, but nearly all the panels used by reputable installers should be able to reliably make electricity for the next 25 years. The options are numerous, and your installer should be able to provide you quotes for a few different kinds. For example, if having panels made in the USA is important to you, your installer should be able to offer you a quote for a system using panels from the USA and panels made elsewhere.
- Warranties - A solar system has multiple warranties that cover the panels, the inverter, and the installer’s work on your roof. What can change between quotes is the length of the warranties and what they cover. Read our full post on solar warranties and what they cover.
Deciding which solar quote is the best
Now for the easy part: choosing which solar company has the best offer. If one installer offers a lower cost per watt using great equipment, they might be the best choice. Just keep in mind that important considerations other than price set solar companies apart.
Larger installers are all about full service and efficiency, making the process of going solar fast and streamlined. They all offer in-house financing options and multiple ways to pay, and they might also throw in bonuses like free monitoring equipment and long-term warranties.
Smaller installers don’t have the overhead of national solar companies, so they can compete more on price. You might even develop a meaningful relationship with a member of your community who has been doing this for a while, and if something goes wrong with your system, it might feel better to pick up the phone to call them rather than an 800 number tied to a high-volume call center. Just keep an eye on their financing offerings. Third-party lenders for solar financing sometimes include finance charges or higher interest that can mean you save less in the long run.
For more of our guidance on choosing an installer, check out these useful articles:
- #1: Why you should get multiple solar quotes and check the math
- #2: 9 crucial things to look for in a solar installer
- #3: How to negotiate with a solar installer.
Step 2: Financing your system
If you plan to pay up front, this step is easy. Just get your checkbook out and make it happen, high-roller! But if you’re interested in a loan or PPA, it’s time to explore options.
Many installers will offer you financing at this point. Compare their offer to the other options you have. If they offer third-party financing, it might be time to explore a HELOC with your bank before you sign their financing arrangement.
We discussed the options in the section on loans above, but here’s a quick refresher:
- Home Equity - Probably the best way to pay for solar, because you control it, the rates are lower, and you can repay it in a more flexible way.
- Solar loans - Most installers will offer some kind of financing. The big guys like Sunrun, Vivint and Tesla/Solarcity have their own loans they can offer you, but most mid-sized installers work with a solar loan provider like Mosaic. These loans are usually structured with the solar tax credit as a balloon payment after 1 year, and the balance of the system cost as a long-term loan at 5%-7% interest.
- PACE loans - Property-Assessed Clean Energy financing is good for people who don’t have amazing credit or tons of equity, but who plan to live in their home for years to come and don’t mind slightly higher interest rates. The loan is repaid through your property tax bill, the interest is often tax-deductible, and repayment can be spread across as many as 25 years.
Don't forget about PPAs
If you don’t mind giving up a little control and letting your solar company own the panels, choose a PPA instead. These are only available through an installer, since they’ll be the ones who own the system.
Again, a PPA is best if you don’t have enough income to take advantage of the 30% federal solar tax credit, but it can work for anybody. It’s generally simpler than owning your own system. You just sign on the dotted line and start getting lower cost electricity from your solar company.
Step 3: Signing a contract, and what happens after
So, you’ve settled on a solar installer, and lined up the funding to pay for your shiny new panels! After you sign on the dotted line, it’s time for the pros to begin their work!
First up, you’ll be seeing a few folks out for site inspections. There will be a master electrician out to look at your main circuit panel and wiring, a solar contractor to do a detailed analysis of your roof and determine the best placement for the panels, and a roofing contractor to examine the structural integrity of your roof.
Design and permitting
Following the inspections, the system designer will get to work on a digital design for your system. Your solar company will finalize the design and components, and give you a final price for approval. Once you’ve authorized the final design, your solar installer will finalize the documents and submit them to your locality for permitting.
Step 4: Installation, Inspection & Interconnection
Texas is a mature solar market and most installers have their procedures down pat. Installation, which used to take several days, now usually takes between 4 and 8 hours. Unless your roof is complicated or your electrical systems need updating, your crew should arrive, perform their duties, and be done within one day.
Your installer will have already completed their site surveys and the workers on the truck will know exactly what they're installing and where. The crew will arrive at your home, set up their gear and get to work on your roof.
The first thing they'll do is mark off all the places the solar panel mounts will be placed, then attach those mounts to your roof. If you'd like to know more about the big metal bolts that will be screwed into your rafters, check out an article on how solar panels are attached to your roof.
The crew will then install the racks and panels, making connections that either wire the panels together in strings, or bring the wires from the micro-inverters together. If the crew includes a master electrician, that person will make the final connections between the panel, inverter, and your main AC panel (you may have to wait a day or two for the master electrician to finish the wiring).
What the heck are micro-inverters?
Traditionally, solar panels are wired in a series and connected to a single inverter box, which converts the electricity from DC to AC so it can be used in your home. Those large inverters work great for most people, but tend to make the system overall a tiny bit less efficient. Also, if a shadow or cloud passes over and blocks sunlight to some of your panels, the whole system suffers.
Micro-inverters, on the other hand, are attached to the back of every panel, which ensures that the maximum energy output of each panel reaches your home wiring. They cost a little more, but for a house with a partially-shaded roof, they can pay for themselves quickly.
Here's an infographic showing how the two types of inverters differ:
Inspection and Interconnection
After your system is installed, it needs to be connected to the grid, and for that, you’ll need to have it inspected. Your installer will line all this up for you, too, and it may take between a couple days and a couple weeks to get the final inspections scheduled and completed.
Your city may require an inspection from the fire department, but the most important inspection will come from the utility company, who will send out someone to examine your system’s components and wiring and install the new electric meter that will record your solar kWhs.
At this point, you might even get a chance to turn the system on yourself!
Step 5: Operation, Maintenance, and claiming your tax credit
So you’ve got a shiny new solar system installed and it’s working. Now what? To be honest, not much. Solar panels are the platonic ideal of a Ron Popeil creation: set it and forget it. Still, you might find yourself compulsively checking your monitoring software to ensure those panels are working as promised.
After the deep breath of fresh air that comes with seeing your new electric bills, you'll relax into a state of solar bliss. During other moments, you'll smile as you think of all the acreage of forest you basically just planted using only the few hundred square feet of your roof.
There are a few important things to know after your panels are installed:
- How to maintain your solar panels
- How to tell if your panels are working
- What to do if they break down
- How to claim the federal tax credit for solar
How to maintain your solar panels
Maintaining solar panels is a breeze. Solar panels are designed to handle rain, wind, snow, hail, and whatever nature throws at them for 25 years or more. All the maintenance a solar panel system needs is a yearly rinse and squeegee to take off extra dust and grime; maybe 2 or three times yearly if you live in a very dusty place. You can get by with a hose, if you need to.
If you own the system, either with a loan or having paid cash, you can expect to do (or contract out) the work yourself. If you have a solar PPA contract, this annual or semi-annual cleaning may be included as part of your agreement, or you may have the responsibility to do any cleaning yourself. Be sure to look for this information as part of a PPA offer.
How to tell if your solar components are working
Other than cleaning, you may someday experience the failure of one or more components. Right off the bat, you should be able to see whether your panels are delivering energy on the panel of your inverter or net meter.
Read the user manual of your inverter to find out how to access the proper information, but most inverters will have a real-time production number on an LCD readout right on the front.
If you have a system with a central inverter, you will likely need to replace it after 10-15 years. If, instead, you have micro-inverters attached to each panel, they should last for the life of your system, and if not, they’re usually covered by 25-year warranties.
Your installer may also have included monitoring software as part of your installation, either on a screen attached to your system or on the web. The monitoring software will tell you if the system is functioning properly, and, if you have micro-inverters on each of your panels, can even tell you if any panels are not working as they should.
If you discover that one or more of your panels isn’t working, it’ll be time to file a warranty claim.
What to do if your panels stop working
If you’ve done a good job by choosing one of our installer partners, you’ve got warranties that cover the installation (e.g., watertightness of roof penetrations and structural integrity of your roof), the panels (manufacturing defects) and the energy (production guarantee).
Your first step is to figure out who to contact. If you have a PPA contract, that step is simple: call your installer or contact them via their customer portal. That might also be the case if you sign up for a solar loan from a big installer. Oftentimes, the loan comes with a similar kind of protection.
If, however, you went with a different installer, perhaps sourced through a different website, you’re probably stuck looking through the paperwork you got with the system to find the manufacturers of your panels, inverter, or other components.
How to claim the federal tax credit for solar
Claiming the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC, for short) is easy, just have your personal assistant fax all the necessary paperwork to your accountant in the Caymans, and wait for your huge refund.
Oh wait, you don't have millions in an offshore account? Then we've got the necessary info for you. The ITC is claimed by filling out a special schedule, Form 5695, and entering the credit amount from that into your 1040 form.
For your edification and convenience, we've prepared a step-by-step guide to claiming the solar tax credit.
Texas Solar Policy Information
Ever wonder why solar seems to be everywhere in some states, but not in others? We did too.
State legislatures and public utilities commissions can enact rules to make solar power accessible for everyone. Favorable rules explain why some of the cloudiest states—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, are doing so well with solar, and yet some of those with the most natural solar resources—like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia—are doing so poorly.
Below is important information about the public policy, rules, and economic reasons that affect your ability to go solar here in Texas.
3% by 2015 (exceeded)
A Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires utilities in the state to eventually source at least a certain percentage of their electricity from clean, renewable sources like solar panels.
Normally an RPS sets targets for a certain percentage of total energy generation to come from renewables, but in Texas, the targets are amounts of electricity produced, measured in megawatts (MW). The Texas RPS was first passed in 1999 with a target of 2,000 MW of energy from renewable resources. In 2005, the legislature increased the requirement to 5,880 MW by 2015 and set a voluntary goal of growing this capacity to 10,000 MW by 2025.
But wind power in Texas is hugely profitable, and by 2009, Texas had already surpassed their 2025 goal. As of 2015, the state has 15,635 MW of installed wind capacity. Despite wildly exceeding even their voluntary "pie-in-the-sky" 2025 goal, the state has yet to increase their RPS targets.
and while 15,635 MW of wind capacity may seem like a lot, it actually accounted for only 10.6% of total electricity generated in the state. In fact, Texas leads the country in total energy consumption, which may seem unsurprising given its size. Yet, the Lone Star State still ranks in the top five for energy consumption when distributed per capita.
For any state—especially one that is as power hungry as Texas—10.6% is far too low of a goal for renewable generation. We’ve seen other high-population, high-energy demand states like New York (30% by 2015) and California (33% by 2022) set much loftier goals, and there are even states (Hawaii) taking aim at 100% renewables by mid-century.
Texas’s RPS is critical to strong renewable energy policy. Utility companies aren't really all that gung-ho about you producing your own power. After all, it costs them money when you use less of their electricity. They also don’t naturally want to give you big payments for energy you're feeding back into the grid. The main reason the utilities are aiding your transition to lower electric bills and offering you incentives to put solar on your roof is because the state forces them to. If the utilities don't hit their RPS numbers, they have to pay large fees back to the state.
What's an RPS? Your state legislature paves the way for strong solar energy incentives to flourish by setting standards for renewable energy generation within their territories. Those standards are called the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). If utility companies do not meet these standards, they must pay alternative compliance fees directly to the state. Many utilities then determine the best ways to source their energy from renewable sources that are less expensive than this fee.
An RPS is a mandate that says "Hey utilities! Y'all now have to make a certain percentage of your electricity from renewable sources. If not, you'll have to pay us huge fines." The consequences are good, because utilities usually try to meet these RPS standards by creating solar power incentives for you, the homeowner. Read more about Renewable Portfolio Standards.
RPS solar carve out
Though Texas requires at least 500 MW of their 2015 goal come from renewable resources other than wind (since about 96% of their renewable energy was sourced from wind in 2015), they do not specify that it must come from solar and this target remains largely voluntary. If the RPS contained specific carve-outs for clean and efficient technologies like solar panels, or mandates for the environmentally necessary increases in distributed generation, you’d see even stronger incentives for residential solar power.
What's a solar set aside? A solar set aside guarantees a specific portion of the overall renewable energy mix generated comes from the sun. For those states with progressive standards, high alternative compliance payments, and clear solar carve outs, the faster those areas become ripe for solar.
Some states have higher alternative compliance fees than others, and some states have more progressive alternative energy standards and deadlines than others do.
For instance, New Jersey has an overall RPS of 22.5% by the year 2021. That requires local utilities to source 22.5% of their energy mix from renewable sources by the year 2021. Pretty good. However, New Jersey also has a specific solar set aside of 4.1% by 2028. That’s the type of firm commitment which really gets the industry rolling forward. No wonder why New Jersey is one of the hottest solar markets right now!
Texas Electricity Prices
Electricity runs about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) here, but you might pay more or less than that, because of the companies who are selling in your area within Texas's deregulated market.
12 cents is just under the national average of 13 cents/kWh, but by our standards that national average is far too cheap. Energy is cheap because it’s generated from dirty-burning fossil fuels, at giant power plants that emit greenhouse gases by the billions of tons.
We’re already seeing energy prices start to rise as we become more and more aware of the effects of all those fossil fuels. As the price of energy continues to climb, the savings on your solar power system are going to rise along with it. Just remember to thank us for the tip when you’re spending all that cash on vacations instead of electricity.
Why are electricity prices so important? Because that is what solar power is directly competing against. The cost to produce power with solar is relatively constant (of course how much sun hits your area has an effect), so if you are paying $0.40 per watt for power, then you make FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the guy or girl paying $0.10 per watt electricity.
The caveat here is that if the $0.10 per watt person has a HUGE rebate, they may be better off than the $0.40 per watt person. Because of that, states without any renewable standards tend to be heavily reliant on cheap coal for electricity, and also have very low electricity prices. When electricity prices are artificially low, that hinders the ability of solar energy to achieve meaningful payback in the state.
Texas Net Metering
Net Metering requires your utility to monitor how much energy your solar power system produces and how much energy you actually consume, and make sure you get credit for the surplus.
Net metering in Texas is … wait what?! There is no net metering here?! Yikes! We’ve seen some states that don’t do much to incentivize solar power at the legislative level, but even most of those states still have a statewide net metering law! Sadly not Texas.
A smattering of localities do offer their own net metering laws -- and more are popping up. In the cities of Austin, Brenham, El Paso (El Paso Electric), and San Antonio (CPS Energy), net metering is available to residential solar power systems and any surplus is credited to future bills at the avoided-cost rate. In addition, customers of Green Mountain Energy are eligible for net metering, with surplus energy production credited to future bills at Green Mountain’s retail rate.
What is net metering? Net metering is the billing arrangement where you can sell excess electricity back to your utility for equal the amount you are charged to consume it. The more customer friendly net metering policies, the higher the grade.
The grade here specifically reflects individual solar system capacity, caps on program capacity limits, restrictions on “rollover” of kWh from one month to the next (yep just like cell phone minutes), metering issues (like charges for new meters), Renewable Energy Credit (REC) ownership, eligible customers and technology (the more renewables the better), being able to aggregate meters across the property for net metering, and safe harbor provisions to protect customers from solar tariff changes.
Texas Interconnection Rules
While most of Texas does not ensure that you can have your energy consumption and production monitored for potential surplus, the state does have regulations designed to help ensure that you can get connected to the grid. Texas provides for standard interconnection procedures for all systems up to 10 MW. The regulations prohibit the utilities from requiring pre-interconnection studies, set 4-6 week time limits on how long the utilities can take to consider your application for interconnection, and offers fast-track pre-certification procedures to speed up the interconnection process.
That’s not too shabby. We’d like to see a prohibition on the requirement of redundant external disconnect switches and separate liability insurance, but compared to the rest of the state’s legislation, interconnection is a big step in the right direction.
Interconnection rules are a little technical, but they basically allow you to “plug in” to the electric grid with solar panels on your roof. The more complex, out of date, or nonsensical the state rules are for plugging into the grid, the lower the grade.
Specifically, the grade reflects what technologies are eligible, individual system capacity, removing interconnection process complexity for smaller systems, interconnection timelines and charges, engineering charges, prohibiting the requirement of unnecessary external disconnects, certification, spot interconnection vs. wide area interconnection, technical screens, friendliness of legalese, insurance requirements, dispute resolution, and rule coverage.
Solar Incentives in Texas
Texas Solar Power Rebates
As we mentioned earlier, Texas lacks any statewide rebate program. Given that most folks outside of big cities have their choice of electric company through the state's open energy marketplace.
For those of you lucky enough to live in a place with a municipal electric company, there are some rebates available. Here's what we've found in the Lone Star state:
|AEP Texas Central Company||$1,050/kW||Subject to additional requirements|
|AEP Texas North Company||$1,050/kW||Subject to additional requirements|
|Austin Energy||$500/kW||Maximum of $9,000. Incentive amounts decrease over time. Other requirements must be met.|
|City of Denton||$750/kW||Maximum of $30,000, not to exceed 50% of total costs. Additional $750/kW available if installation includes battery storage|
|City of San Marcos||$2,000/kW, $5,000 max.||Subject to additional requirements.|
|City of Sunset Valley||$1,000/kW||Must be eligible for Austin Energy rebate. Sunset Valley rebate offered in addition to Austin Energy rebate.|
|CoServ Electric Cooperative||$1,000/kW||Subject to additional requirements.|
|CPS Energy||$600-$800/kW||Amount varies based on whether system uses local components. $25,000 max.|
|El Paso Electric Company||$750/kW||2015 fully subscribed. 2016 rebates TBD.|
|Farmer's Electric Co-op||Up to $1,000||Must meet all program criteria.|
|Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative||$1,000/kW||Subject to additional requirements.|
|Oncor Electric Delivery||$538.8/kW + $0.3462/kWh in 1 year||Subject to additional requirements. Calculations for kWh per year are based on expected production. For example, a 5-kW array might produce 7,020 kWh in one year, and its owner would therefore be awarded $2430.32 in addition to the initial $2,694 rebate.|
Since our last update, many rebates have come and gone, but there is still a lot of opportunity for solar savings in Texas thanks to these utility-based incentives. You can check your utility’s website for the most recent information on program status and application procedures. Or you can relax and connect with our expert partner installers in Texas, who'll make sure you get all the rebates and savings available.
How do solar rebates work? Similar to getting a rebate card from your local big box store for a dishwasher purchase, state legislatures also provide rebates for solar panel purchases to spur on investment and create new jobs. If you purchase the solar panel system yourself, you qualify for this free cash, which many times is a lump payment back to you. Some solar installers like to take this amount directly off the total installed price, and they'll handle the paperwork for you to make things a lot less complex.
The availability of state and utility rebates were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The better the rebates, the higher the grade.
Texas Solar Power Tax Credits
No State Income Tax
Since Texas doesn’t have any income tax, there aren’t any solar tax credits to redeem! Luckily, you will still benefit from the 30% Federal Solar Tax Credit. Sample calculations follow below -- keep scrolling!
About state solar tax credits: State tax credits are not technically free money. However, they are 'credits' and not 'deductions' which means that if you have the tax appetite to take advantage of them, then they can be a 1-to-1 dollar amount off your taxes instead of a fraction of the cost of the system. So that means they can be an important factor to consider. In certain circumstances, state tax credits can provide a very powerful incentive for people to go solar.
(Keep in mind, we are not tax professionals and give no tax advice so please consult a professional before acting on anything we say related to taxes)
The availability of personal tax credits for solar energy were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the tax credit amount, the higher the grade.
Solar Power Performance Payments
Texas lacks any performance payments for residential solar power systems. Not even individual utilities are offering them, as we’ve seen in some other states that lack a uniform system. See what we were saying about that weak RPS? If the target were increased to 30% or more of annual production, you can bet some of those utilities, maybe even the state, would start offering cash payments for renewable energy production.
Explanation of performance payments: Performance payments represent a big chunk of the financial rationale for going solar, and in many instances they make your decision a wise one. For certain states, if you’ve got solar panels on your roof, not only will you be cutting your electric bill down to size, but you'll be getting paid additional cash from your utility company. Pretty awesome, huh? Not only are you generating electricity for yourself, freezing your own popsicles with sun, and feeling like you’re doing something smart for your children or any of the other 4 reasons people go solar, but you are getting PAID!
Utility companies are paying people with solar panels on their roofs because their states say they have to, otherwise they will pay a fee. Therefore, the payment amount to homeowners is typically a little bit less than the amount they would be billed for by the state. For states with these alternative compliance fees, Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) exchanges have popped up. In the above chart, we outlined an estimate of yearly payments a homeowner might expect from the utility company for the SREC credits from their solar energy system.
Expected SREC payments were calculated by using the latest trade values in the SRECtrade database. The availability of feed-in tariffs were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the expected monthly payments, the higher the grade.
If you don’t know what an SREC is, or how they work, check out this great SREC video
Property Tax Exemption
Finally! Score one for the Texas lawmakers -- coming through with a solid property tax exemption. When you install that shiny new solar power system, the resulting increase in home value (details on how much later) is exempt from 100% of the resulting property tax increase.
About solar property tax exemptions: Property tax exemption status is a pretty big factor when putting together your investment considerations. Many argue that solar power adds approximately 20 times your annual electricity bill savings (if you are owning the system and not leasing. Leasing still has a positive impact on the ability to sell your home though, in our opinion).
For many average-sized solar power systems on a house, that can mean $20,000 to your home value. (Edit April, 2014: Some companies, like Solar Mosaic, are starting to offer traditional style equity-based home loans for such a thing). An additional $20,000 in property tax basis in many states amounts to a big chunk of change owed back to the state. However, many states have complete exemptions from added taxes when you install solar on your home!
The availability of a property tax exemption for solar energy was also sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The stronger the tax exemption, the higher the grade.
Sales Tax Exemption
Now if only we could get a matching sales tax exemption. Sales tax ranges from 6.25% to 8.25% here, depending on the local tax rate. You may not notice it in small purchases, but that sales tax adds up for big-ticket items. A sales tax exemption is a simple and efficient way to save you a couple thousand bucks on those solar panels. No checks, no mess. Just discounts for you right off the top. Let’s get on that, lawmakers!
What's the deal with solar power sales tax exemptions? When states give you a sales tax break on solar, we notice. You should too. State sales tax exemption status for the purchase of solar energy systems were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Sales tax exemptions, if present, were all 100%. A handful of states are completely exempt from sales tax regardless, and therefore received ‘A’ grades by default (OR, DE, MT, AK, and NH).
The consensus on Texas solar power rebates and incentives
Despite the lousy statewide regulations, those big fast utility rebates manage to keep the overall picture from being a total failure. The 12 year payback timeframe is, in fact, pretty decent. Normally that would be strong enough for a “C” grade from us. Unfortunately, with a poor showing on net metering and interconnection requirements, a return lower than average, and a minimal RPS keeping us in fear of closing rebate programs, we can’t bring ourselves to give the Lone Star State anything higher than a “D.”