The Green Leaf

Sun, sun, sun, here we come

December 31st, 2012

The year 2012 was a good time to install solar photovoltaic panels, with generous tax credits still in place and a larger number of contractors to choose from. The total number of systems doubled that of last year.

As the year comes to a close, there's no question that 2012 was a good year to go solar — many homeowners took the step of investing in a solar photovoltaic (PV) system to harness Hawaii's sun for electricity. As I drive around Oahu, I notice all of the new solar PV arrays on rooftops, from 12 simple panels covering aging cottages to large, 30-plus panels on newer, two-story homes.

Solar PV systems are still a pretty hefty price, upfront, at between $15,000 to $40,000 (before tax credits).

Even with new limits looming  on the horizon next year (which significantly reduce the amount of state credits homeowners can apply for, with only one per system and a $5,000 cap), the 30 percent federal and 35 percent state tax credits are not going away.

There will still be a return on your investment, though it may take longer. The costs of fossil fuel electricity are still bound to go up, even if they were down for a month or two at the close of 2012.

Don't forget that solar water heaters still qualify for both federal (30 percent) and state tax (35 percent) credits and a $750 rebate from Hawaii Energy, with no changes on the horizon for next year.

More local banks in Hawaii are offering "solar loans" which help you finance a solar PV system.

If you aren't ready to make that kind of investments, you can also opt for a power purchase agreement. Some solar contractors will install, own and maintain your solar PV system and sell you back the electricity it produces (likely less than your HECO bill). Or you could look into SunRun, which also offers you a power purchase agreement, allowing you to lease a solar system installed on your home.

The following local banks offer solar loans:

>> American Savings Bank offers a "clean energy loan" for single-family homes and condos in Hawaii. The catch is that they only offer the loans if you are using one of their pre-approved list of participating contractors, although that list of contractors is growing.

>> First Hawaiian Bank offers an EnergySmart Financing Program for both solar water and solar PV systems from a list of approved contractors.

>> Bank of Hawaii doesn't have a labeled "solar loan," per se, but offers financing options like a home equity line for solar investments as well.

>> University of Hawaii Federal Credit Union was one of the first lenders to offer a "green loan" for solar water heaters and a home equity green loan which you can also use for a hybrid car.

>> Hawaii Central Federal Credit Union. Offers both a solar water heater  in partnership with Hawaii Energy and solar photovoltaic loan.

If it's solar water heating you're interested in, Hawaii Energy has partnered with a number of lenders on the isles to offer financing.

Other options include Enerbank, which offers a short-term, no-interest loan that can be paid in full with an existing line of credit.

It's important to read the fine print and know the terms of the loan before signing on the dotted line. There was an interesting article in Forbes that claimed the average price of a solar PV system would be half the cost if there was less paperwork, according to studies by the National Renewable Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley. Maybe that's something we could work on.

Good luck! May 2013 be your solar year.

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