Boulder, Colorado may have four seasons, including a full winter, but that hasn’t stopped this city of 100,000 from embracing solar energy in a big way—including solar hot water.
Home of the University of Colorado and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), it’s not surprising that Boulder citizens would be very open to solar, but openness doesn’t install solar. Incentives and competition do.
Boulder’s incentives for solar PV systems have been quite generous until recently. Not too long ago, Xcel Energy, the city’s former utility, was offering a $3/watt rebate, knocking off thousands off the upfront cost. (Today, they’re under $1/watt.)
Aside from solar PV, solar water heating is also thriving in Boulder due to several local incentives and the 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC).
The specific Boulder and applicable state solar water heating incentives include:
The Solar Grant Program, which provides grants for solar water heating installations on housing enrolled in the city’s affordable housing program. Non-profit organizations and low-to moderate-income housing owned by non-profits are also eligible for the grants of up to 50% of the total out-of-pocket costs for the project –after all rebates, tax credits, and other incentives are subtracted.
PACE Financing: Although the program is currently suspended, Boulder’s PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program was reportedly very popular while it lasted. Locally known as the “ClimateSmart Loan Program,” homeowners could install solar water heaters for almost no money down and receive a market rate 15-year loan with an added benefit: Because the loan was backed by a municipal bond, a tax lien was placed on the home. Why is that a benefit? Because it meant that if the homeowner sold the home before 15 years, the balance of the loan (and the solar system) would automatically transfer to the new homeowner. Normally, home improvement loans have to be paid in full when the property is sold. Unfortunately, the program conflicted with mortgage loans backed by Fannie Mae, and now PACE programs across the country are suspended…for now.
Sales Tax Incentives: The City of Boulder established a solar thermal rebate that gives a 15% refund on the sales tax paid for residential or commercial solar installation. In addition, the state of Colorado gives commercial, government, and nonprofits a 100% sales tax exemption for any solar system purchase, including solar hot water.
As a result of the above (and a solar supportive City government and community), I drove by many solar water heating installations in Boulder, including the flat plate installation (pictured above) installed on top of Boulder’s Recreation Center.