The Ultimate Northern California Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Panel Rebates and Tax Incentives 2016-2017

Solar energy saves money—it’s that simple. Or is it?

Northern California is often at the forefront of this burgeoning technology. From UC Davis’ cutting-edge solar research to our seemingly perpetual sunny skies and forward-thinking state programs, homeowners can go green and clean by becoming less reliant on the grid. The only problem for homeowners is that the installation of solar panels, and the process of switching to solar-powered energy, can be expensive. And it can be hard to spend a lot of money up front, even if you know it will balance out down the road.

That’s where rebates and other incentives come in. The state of California has launched a huge solar program, the California Solar Initiative, and every municipal utility has incentivized the use of solar in their own way. Here’s a look at how residents of Northern California can save money with solar, whether they belong to SMUD, PG&E, San Francisco City and County, or any of the other utilities in the top half of the state. With the right solar installer and consultant, you can become energy-efficient—and save money every day.

All programs are subject to change based on availability and current funding.

The California Solar Initiative

i-solar-houseThe California Solar Initiative is a statewide program administered by investor-owned utilities, like PG&E in Northern California, and is part of the larger Go Solar California campaign. Programs offer homeowners, builders, contractors, and business owners alike opportunities to earn cash rebates and incentives for helping California make the shift to clean, efficient energy.

CSI General Market Program

The California Solar Initiative General Market Program offers both residential homeowners and businesses cash rebates for installing solar energy systems.

  • Rebates are based on watts of solar energy installed
  • Requires an Energy Efficiency Audit
  • Administered through PG&E in Northern California

CSI-Thermal Program

You don’t have to power your entire home on solar to save money—the CSI-Thermal Program allows you to install solar panels specifically designed to heat the water in your house, rather than use standard electrical or gas heaters.

  • Consumers can earn a rebate upfront to mitigate the costs of expert installation
  • Rebates are available up to $4366
  • Solar water-heating equipment must meet eligibility requirements, i.e. OG-300 System Certification for single-family residences
  • Administered through PG&E in Northern California

Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH)

Offered to low-income homeowners, the SASH program works in conjunction with the non-profit GRID Alternatives to help with the costs of solar energy installation.

  • Applicants must meet certain eligibility, such as:
    • Occupy the eligible residence
    • Have an income that does not exceed 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI)
  • Eligible residents receive a set incentive of $3 per watt
  • Administered through PG&E in Northern California

Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH)

The MASH program focuses on incentivizing the use of solar energy for multifamily affordable housing options.

  • Applicants receive a minimum $1.10 per watt incentive rate
  • Incentive rates increase to $1.80 per watt when applicants share a majority portion of the energy savings with their tenants
  • Applies to retrofitting existing residences only, no new construction
  • Administered through PG&E in Northern California

New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP)

Run by the California Energy Commission, the NSHP creates incentives encouraging home builders to include solar energy options when constructing new homes.

  • Eligible homes are required to have highly energy-efficient photovoltaic modules installed
  • These homes might also qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $2000
  • Administered through the California Energy Commission

Region-Specific Programs for Northern California


The Savings by Design Program

The Savings by Design program benefits building owners integrating clean energy into a new construction project, or a renovation. Construction design teams can also participate in this program along with the homeowner.

  • Using the program’s Whole Building Approach, owners receive rebates based on calculated yearly savings, with a maximum incentive of $150,000
  • Owners using the program’s Systems Approach tackle energy-savings by looking at individual energy components, like HVAC, lighting, or heating water
  • Work must be done through a contractor certified by the local utility in order to qualify
  • Administered through PG&E and SMUD in Northern California

Net Metering

Get credit for energy your solar panels produce, but don’t use—this is the basis for net energy metering, or NEM. At any time during the day or night, your house may be collecting more solar energy than it actually needs. This excess energy goes back into the utility grid, and the meter is run backward to reflect this. This balances out the times when you are using more energy than produced, and are reliant on the traditional grid.

  • Over a 12-month period, the customer only pays for the net amount of electricity they used from the grid.
  • It is not unusual for customers to get a payment for Net Surplus Generation.
  • Customers get full retail value for the energy they generate
  • Administered through PG&E in Northern California

Choosing a solar energy incentive program can be a confusing experience. Different costs and rebate structures mean that solar energy may not be the right economic choice for everyone. When considering solar for your home or construction project, it’s crucial to make sure you have all the right information up front, and that starts with choosing professional installers who:

  • Are photovoltaic experts
  • Can provide consulting on whether solar is the right choice for you
  • Can help you get the maximum rebates before, during, and after installation

At Bell Brothers, we bring the same level of professionalism, expertise, and honesty to our solar consulting and installation business as we have for decades in HVAC, plumbing, insulation, and windows. We can help you get the best rebate to mitigate the costs of installation. Connect with us today to learn more about how we can help you go green, get clean, and save money.



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City and County Based Solar Incentives

Residential incentives are based on per AC Watt rebates and are subject to availability and limited funding.

Lassen County

  • Buy Down Program: Offered through LMUD
  • Residential Incentive: $2.60 per AC Watt
  • Residential Max: $3,000, or 50% of system cost, whichever is less
  • Note: Any system that is larger than 5kW must prove that the size of the system fits the needs of the home.


  • Residential Incentive (2016): $1.56 per AC Watt
  • Residential Incentive (2017): $1.45 per AC Watt (expected rate)
  • Will restart in 2017
  • Fund expected to run through 2018

Merced County

Palo Alto

  • Clean Local Energy Available Now: Palo Alto CLEAN allows local utilities to buy energy from clean energy grids.
  • Residential Incentive: $0.165 per kilowatt hour (kWh)


  • Residential Incentive: $1.68 per AC Watt
  • Residential Max: $6,000
  • Maximum Size: 25 kilowatt (kW)—with variance potentially available upon request


  • Residential Solar Energy Program: Provides incentives for solar power installation
  • Residential Incentive: $0.24 per CSI-rated AC Watts
  • Application Deadline: December 23rd, 2016

Sacramento (SMUD)

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District currently offers:

  • Power Purchase Agreements. Homeowner leases the solar equipment and pays a cost based on the power used. The amount varies each month, with costs trending higher in summer than in winter. Traditional leases are also available.
  • Incentives. Starting January 16, 2015, SMUD has been offering a residential incentive of $500.00 per residential solar system.
  • Rebate Amount: $200 per kilowatt (kW)

San Francisco

The GoSolarSF Program currently offers:

  • Installation Reimbursement: Can save up to 100% of installation
  • Residential Incentives: $500-2800 per kilowatt (kW)—with extra rebates for qualified low-income residences
  • Business and Non-Profit Incentives: $500-1000 per kilowatt (kW)
  • Maximum Incentive: $50,000
  • Must have contract with installer prior to application

Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley Power)

Silicon Valley Power currently offers:

  • Energy Innovation Program: Offers grants on a cents-per-kilowatt-hour-saved or percent-of-project-cost basis (up to $250,000 per customer) for innovative new energy efficiency technologies, applications, or solutions.
  • Solar Electric Rebate Program: Offers a residential incentive of $1.50 per AC watt


  • Photovoltaic Buy Down Program: Offered through TDPUD
  • Residential Incentive: $2.55 per AC watt
  • Residential Max: $7650

Turlock Irrigation District

  • Residential Incentive (under 30kW): $0.45 per AC watt
  • Residential Incentive (over 30kW): $0.05 per AC watt
  • Resident Applications: Still being accepted
  • Non-Resident Applications: Subscriptions are full
  • Funding Cap: $23 million


  • Residential Incentive: $.28 per AC watt
  • Rebate program now available through 2017

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