While a handful of US states still lack almost any meaningful incentives for encouraging citizens to generate power for their homes and businesses with renewable technologies, the state of Washington now plans to pay citizens 15 cents per kilowatt hour that "backyard" solar producers send to the state's electric grid. That rate compares to 5-8 cents that Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light charge their customers, so those willing to install solar installations do much better than "net metering" models seen in other parts of the US:
The enabling legislation for the incentives, described by primary sponsor Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-West Seattle, as "the most progressive in America," was passed last year, but has been tied up in the rule-making process until this month.Certainly many states will argue that they simply can't afford to pay citizens who generate solar power above-market rates, but Washington's investment could make the state the leader in small-scale solar production: Poulsen notes that the state didn't adapt a model from anywhere in the US, but followed the example of Germany and Japan, now the world's largest producers of solar-generated electricity. He also claims that, ultimately, this is not only better for citizens, but also for utilities who won't have to invest as much in large-scale (and likely polluting) power plants and
Under the new program, utility companies will take a tax credit for the money they pay to small electrical producers. The new program also will allow those who adopt alternative-energy systems for their roofs and backyards to justify their investments sooner than before. Until now, a $20,000 photovoltaic system needed several decades to realize a "payback" date.
Beginning Aug. 1, backyard producers of the future will be able to earn kilowatt-hour money if they install equipment manufactured in this state. To help that along, the new law offers tax incentives to manufacturers.
"This finally makes solar a viable investment for the little guy, which is how I've always looked at it -- as a capital investment," said Mike Nelson, director of the solar program for Washington State University Extension.