Teresa McUsic

How to get incentives to help pay for solar panels or insulation

Teresa McUsic

Homeowners can get incentives for installing solar panels.
Homeowners can get incentives for installing solar panels. Star-Telegram archives

Incentive programs to help area homeowners pay for everything from installing solar panels and smart thermostats to caulking leaky windows or adding attic insulation are on again this spring.

This time, some electricity providers also are offering financial incentives on energy efficiency upgrades, including solar panels and Nest smart thermostats.

That’s good news for North Texas homeowners, because funds from the largest incentive program — through Oncor — have been cut by 17 percent over the past year, according to Kris Spears, Oncor spokesman.

Oncor uses formulas approved by the Public Utility Commission to calculate projected energy savings in each program. This year, the PUC changed the formula for photovoltaic solar installations and HVAC duct sealing work, making the energy savings less. So Oncor has reduced funding in those areas.

Oncor’s total incentive program is still large, however: The utility plans to hand out $42 million in incentives this year through its “Take A Load Off, Texas” energy efficiency programs, Spears said.

That includes $20 million in incentives for its four residential programs, which include solar, home energy efficiency, low-income weatherization and advanced thermostats. This year’s solar program has $1.5 million and will help offset the cost for about 250 average solar arrays, Spears said.

“The cost of solar installations continues to decline, and Oncor sets its incentive levels based on current installation costs,” he said. “Due to cost reduction for installations, significant incentives are no longer needed to encourage or motivate homeowners to invest in solar.”

In addition to the Oncor incentive, the federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit on solar installation that is good through 2019. After that, the credit is being phased out until it is eliminated in 2022.

This year, the solar program limits each contractor in the program to five projects.

“We haven’t done any yet, so it’s still available,” said Alex Mladenovic, director of R. Williams Electric in Fort Worth, which joined Oncor’s solar program as a contractor this year.

Spears said Oncor expects the solar program, which opened Feb. 7, to be available through the fall with some of the 38 contractors who have signed up to be service providers.

But you might want to check out other solar rebate programs popping up with electric retail providers in our area. For example, both TXU Energy and Green Mountain Energy offer solar programs with incentives to cut the costs.

Green Mountain’s rooftop solar program provides between $1,000 and $4,500 off the cost for your solar array, averaging $2,500, said Jason Sears, a senior manager with the electric retailer.

“You can do both Oncor and Green Mountain incentives,” he said. “With Oncor, the incentive is upfront and with Green Mountain the rebate is at completion of the installation.”

In addition, Green Mountain will buy back any energy produced from the array at the same cost it charges if you need more energy in a given month, Sears said.

TXU Energy has a similar program with up to $5,000 off a residential solar array.

In addition to solar, there are other ways to make your home more efficient, and incentives to cut those costs as well.

Oncor’s home energy efficiency program, which started this week, provides financial incentives for everything from energy efficient air conditioners and heat pumps to insulation, caulking and weather stripping. It has $12.5 million this year and will service around 20,000 homes, Spears said.

By state law, the incentive is given to the third-party contractor working with Oncor, but most pass the savings on to their customers. Remember to ask for the savings upfront.

Oncor’s low-income weatherization program also started this week, with $5.8 million to service approximately 4,800 homes, Spears said. To qualify, homeowners must make at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $48,600 for a family of four.

Including its commercial efficiency programs, Oncor projects its energy efficiency incentives program will have the effect of reducing peak demand by 145 megawatts and overall customer consumption by 208,000 megawatt hours over the course of the year. Since Oncor launched the efficiency programs in 2001, more than 800,000 of the company’s 3.2 million customers have participated in or been affected by them.

New this year, Oncor is expanding its Residential Demand Response program, which helps reduce electricity demand during high-peak emergencies by controlling thermostats and other home appliances.

Oncor has $1.3 million in the program this year and is working with retail electric providers and other vendors who manage portfolios of residential customer thermostats to implement the program. The program is designed to give away free or discounted smart thermostats to around 25,000 customers.

One provider, Reliant, offers a free Nest Learning thermostat to customers who sign up for a 24-month plan. The smart thermostats can be linked to smartphones to control settings.

Spears advised checking with your retail electric provider to see if it is involved with this program.

Oncor is currently up for sale to NextEra, but a change of ownership will not stop the program, Spears said. The PUC is considering the proposed sale from the Energy Future Holdings bankruptcy case.

“The state of Texas mandates energy efficiency programs, and Oncor will continue to offer a portfolio of programs to meet the regulatory requirements,” he said.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

Incentive programs

Oncor: $20 million for solar, home energy efficiency, low-income weatherization and advanced thermostat programs. Go to www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com, or call 866-728-3674 for a list of local third-party contractors sorted by ZIP code. Homeowners must be in Oncor’s service territory.

Green Mountain Energy: Up to $4,500 off a residential rooftop solar array installed by local contractors. For more information or a free assessment, call 844-616-4676 or go to www.greenmountainenergy.com.

TXU Energy: Up to $5,000 off a residential rooftop solar array installed by SunPower. For more information or a free quote, call 844-264-1152 or email solarsales@txu.com.

Reliant: Offers a $249 Nest Learning thermostat for free when a customer signs up for a fixed-price 24-month plan. Links with your smartphone. www.reliant.com.