Modesto Irrigation District cancels solar rebate program

Saying this year’s fund for solar rebates was depleted after only four months, the Modesto Irrigation District has pulled the plug on that incentive, apparently leaving dozens of applicants and several solar contractors in the lurch. The abrupt shutdown means homeowners on the verge of applying can forget about being paid thousands of dollars for investing in sun-powered technology on their rooftops. Without that incentive, many could cancel installation contracts, hurting solar companies as well. “MID put the screws to both of us,” said Modesto homeowner Don Goursky, among those left in limbo. The district had advertised solar rebates on its website as late as last week, but won’t honor applications submitted during the two weeks before. When questioned, MID energy services supervisor Bob Hondeville apologized and blamed the program’s popularity. “If we had seen this coming earlier, we would have made every provision” to avoid surprises, Hondeville said. “It got away from us. Demand was higher than we suspected.” Rising demand Numbers of customers taking the no-rebate lease option rose from one in 2011 to three in 2012, then skyrocketed to 82 last year. But the rebate program has been even more popular, going from 75 participants in 2012 to 261 last year and attracting 127 this year before MID shut down the program and backdated the application deadline to May 1. At that rate, MID might have been saddled with 381 new rebate requests this year – a far cry from 21 six years ago. In the past five years, MID has given $17 million in solar rebates, hitting a high mark of $4.5 million in 2013. But leaders set aside only $4.2 million for this year. That weaning is exactly what state legislators envisioned when the California Solar Initiative was introduced seven years ago, but the effect means less rebate money to spread among more applicants. And the district was caught flat-footed. “We set the budget, then saw a huge increase in popularity,” Hondeville said. “We were thinking we’d have enough to play it out, but demand outpaced our projects significantly.” That’s little comfort to those whose paychecks rely, at least in part, on consistency, and to customers planning to go green. MID never before has run out of rebate money before the end of the year. “Somebody should have been checking,” Goursky said. “For it to go away so abruptly seems odd to me.” Krum said, “I can live with shutting down the program and waiting till next year. It’s just the way they did it. They gave no indication and led us 100 percent to believe (everything was fine).”

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