Affordable housing owners who want to retrofit their developments to go solar in California have an additional rebate incentive to help them do so.

The California Solar Initiative's Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program offers up-front capacity- based incentives for solar photovoltaic systems that offset common area and tenant loads for qualifying affordable housing properties that have had an occupancy permit for at least two years.

The qualifying developments also must be electric customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison, or San Diego Gas & Electric.

Applications are available for MASH's Track 1, which provides fixed rebates based on the size of the photovoltaic system installed and its expected performance. For a system that offsets a common area load, owners will receive a rebate of $3.30 per watt, and for a system that offsets a tenant load, owners will receive a $4 per watt rebate. Track 2, which will offer higher incentives to applicants who provide quantifiable “direct tenant benefits,” is still under review and applications have yet to be released.

According to Richard Raeke, director of project finance for Borrego Solar Systems, Inc., the MASH program has $108 million in funding, which is roughly 30 megawatts of solar power. He says the program expects the funding to be around for four years, but that will depend on “how quickly developers take to this. I have a concern it may go quicker because the rebate is so lucrative.”

Owners could be looking at the system paying for itself within five to seven years—potentially as little as three years depending on the cost of the installation, the system production, and the rebate level—and for roughly 45 percent to 65 percent of the cost to be paid for by the state, Raeke says. He also adds that the one-time rebate should be paid out to the owner within 30 days of the solar system being turned on.

Another benefit for MASH participants is virtual net metering. This allows owners to apply the credits from a single solar system to multiple accounts on a site. The solar system will feed directly back into the grid any electricity not consumed on site, and the electric companies will allocate credits as the property owner or manager designates.

For owners who are interested in utilizing solar power, Raeke recommends evaluating the potential buildings first. He says it's important to assess the roof conditions early as well as other structures in the development.

Evaluating current rate schedules and consumption is also key. If an owner is already on a discounted rate schedule or consumption isn't that high, it might not be beneficial for the owner, Raeke adds.

With the MASH rebate incentive, Raeke also recommends for owners to think about the larger scale and look at several buildings to maximize the economy of it since the rebates will only be around for a few years.

Raeke says Borrego has seen an interest from owners already. He also adds that he wouldn't be surprised to see more states creating solar incentives for owners.

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