While experts and advocates tout the importance of using solar power, few, if any, have done anything to lower the cost.

Living up to the Golden State’s reputation as a pioneer for change, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) set a new standard in November 2007, adopting an unprecedented $108 million program that delivers incentives to low-income, single-family homeowners who install solar power systems in their homes. According to the PUC, the program is the first statewide low-income solar program to be implemented at this scale.

The PUC adopted the ambitious California Solar Initiative program in early 2006 and allocated 10 percent ($216.7 million) of the program’s budget for the installation of solar power systems on low-income residences. The Single-Family Low-Income Program will receive half of that budget ($108 million), and the other half is reserved for a similar program currently under development for multifamily residences.

The cost to install a photovoltaic system on a typical single-family home in California can be as high as $25,000. The program is designed to make the systems more affordable for low-income homeowners by providing incentives, ranging from $4.75 to $7 per watt installed. That contrasts with the $2.50 per watt offered by the California Solar Initiative for all homeowners in general.

The low-income incentives will subsidize between 50 and 75 percent of the costs and are expected to be available to approximately 5,000 qualifying homeowners. Going one step further, for homeowners with up to 50 percent of the area median income, the program will offer fully subsidized 1-kW systems. EC