Innovation and support, both popular and political, have helped make renewables more competitive than at any other time in their history. Still, cost is the biggest stumbling block for businesses and homeowners who want to retrofit their property with energy-efficient power.

In this environment, incentives abound, and one utility recognizes their importance. In February, Minnesota Power announced incentives that make the pot even sweeter. The utility has made its SolarSense program more affordable for property owners to install otherwise costly solar-power systems.

It starts with a base rebate of $2,000 per kilowatt (kW) of an installed system’s generating capacity. Keeping an eye on the state’s homegrown solar power industry, the “Minnesota Made Incentive” gives an additional rebate of $1,000 per kilowatt to customers who choose solar products, equipment or systems manufactured in the state.

Recognizing that most solar customers are conscientious energy users, the utility’s “Energy Efficiency Incentive” provides customers who have demonstrated energy efficiency in their home or business with another rebate of $1,000 per kilowatt. Residential customers must complete the Energy Star yardstick with a rating of 7 or greater and verification through an in-home energy analysis. Commercial customers must achieve an Energy Star qualified rating or receive a level II end-use analysis and implement at least two identified measures that qualify for a rebate under Minnesota Power’s PowerGrant program.

Property owners who have their system implemented by solar installers certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners may also receive a $250 per kilowatt incentive. Finally, to support demonstration projects and community renewable projects, the program includes a rebate of $500 per kilowatt for nonprofit organizations or tax-exempt customers.

According to the utility, the new tiered incentives, when combined with the base rebate, could total as much as $4,750 per kilowatt for eligible solar projects. A 5-kW system, for example, could qualify for more than $20,000 in combined rebates and incentives. Projects must be completed by Dec. 31, 2012.