California Solar Consumers Moving to Leasing Model

Recently, the PV Solar Report released findings that indicated the top cities for solar power in California in 2011. From first to fifth, the results were as follows: San Jose, San Diego, Bakersfield, San Francisco and Fresno. What is interesting is that other than San Diego, all of the top cities are in Northern California. This makes sense as Northern California, in general, suffers from the highest utility rates in the state.

It is also interesting to note that Los Angeles is not on this list. This is most likely due to the fact that Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the primary utility in Los Angeles, had to shut down its solar program in April because of a lack of funding. Actually, the original LADWP program was seeded with $30 million but received $112 million in requests which prompted the city to shut the program down. Recently, however, LADWP re-booted its program with $60 million but the payouts are much smaller with the hope that the new program can last much longer.

In addition to ranking the states, the report notes that third party ownership models for solar are becoming more and more popular amongst Californians. These ownership models would include solar leases and power purchase agreements. In fact, June of 2011 was the first month in California where consumers opted for the third party ownership models for solar as opposed to buying the panels outright.

With lease offerings from places like SunRun, SolarCity and Lowe’s, the upfront cost of solar is being driven further and further down making it more affordable for average consumers. In fact, many of these places offer a variety of leasing options ranging from $0 down to a couple of thousand dollars as a down payment. In each scenario, they factor in what they expect your new electric bill will be in addition to the lease fee and the total amount is still lower than what most consumers are paying without solar. Then when the rate of inflation for electricity is factored in, the savings over time can be even bigger. And as the California solar rebate system begins to dry up with less money to distribute, the rise of third party ownership models for solar is a healthy development and a sign that grid parity may not be too far away.