Your 2019 guide to getting solar panels for your home in Colorado
This page is a complete guide to the complicated and sometimes confusing process of installing solar panels on your Colorado home. Since there's a lot to consider, we've separated the page into sections to help you find what you are looking for. If you find this page useful, please share it with someone who might also find it interesting!
** What's new for 2019 **
It's 2019, and the state of home solar in Colorado is strong! The General Assembly passed a bill last year that extends a limit on the fees that can be assessed on new solar installations, keeping the cost of going solar low for homeowners. Way to go, lawmakers!
We've got a brand new page all about the specifics of going solar in Denver and the surrounding areas. If you live in the area and are served by either Xcel Energy or United Power, check it out. Speaking of Xcel, they've got a nice program called Solar*Rewards, which earns you a little extra money for every kilowatt-hour of electricity your panels generate.
Rebates are still available for residents of Boulder and Colorado Springs, too. All in all, Colorado is a great place to go solar, and we know expert local installers. If you're ready to see how much you can save with solar on your roof, click over and get quotes from our partners.
The Solar Strategy section is focused on the 3 ways of paying for solar in Colorado, so you can decide which is best for you. We've created a tool that asks you a few questions and recommends whether you should pursue a solar lease, loan, or outright purchase. Then, we provide detailed analysis of how each works.
The Solar, Step by Step section is a guide to everything that happens from before you get solar quotes to the time when the panels are on your roof and you're getting ready to claim that sweet solar tax credit.
The Policy Information section contains all our latest research on the rules set by lawmakers and the Public Utilities Commission, which determine how easy it is to go solar in Colorado. These policies and rules govern everything from renewable energy mandates to interconnection, and have a huge effect on the viability of solar.
Finally, the Solar Incentives section includes information about money-back rebates and grants, tax credits, and tax exemptions for going solar in Colorado.
Click any of the boxes below to go to that section of the page, or scroll down to read the page in order.
|Your Colorado Solar Strategy|
|Colorado Solar, Step by Step|
|Colorado Solar Policy Information|
|Colorado Solar Incentives|
|Your Colorado Solar Strategy|
|Comparing Solar Investment Options|
|Paying Cash for Solar in Colorado|
|Solar Loans in Colorado|
|Solar PPAs in Colorado|
|Solar Purchase Payback Time in Colorado|
|Colorado Solar, Step by Step|
|Getting & Comparing Quotes|
|Financing Your System|
|Signing a Contract, & What Comes After|
|Installation, Inspection, & Interconnection|
|Operation, Maintenance & Claiming the Tax Credit|
|Colorado Solar Policy Information|
|Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)|
|RPS Solar Carve-Out|
Your Solar Strategy in Colorado
Figuring out the best way to go solar in Colorado can be a little daunting. From loans and leases to power-purchase agreements, there are a lot of options out there. To help you pick the one that might be best, we've created the handy decision tool below.
We'll ask you a few simple questions about you and your home. Once you're done, we'll recommend a good option. Further down this page, we provide cost estimates and example return-on-investment calculations for all the various options:
How to pay for solar panels in Colorado
The chart above shows the 25-year returns for an investment in solar whether you choose to purchase a system with cash or pay over time with a loan or lease. As you can see, the purchase option leads to the highest dollar-amount returns over time, but it also requires a big up-front investment. If you take a solar loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC), though, your payments over 15 years will be only a little more than your savings, and you'll still come out tens of thousands ahead in the end.
The option with the smallest savings is for a solar lease or PPA, which means you put $0 down on a rooftop solar system and pay monthly while you accumulate electricity bill savings over time. Leases and PPAs are an excellent option if you don't have any equity or cash to put down.
Read on to find out more about each option.
Option 1: Paying cash for solar
An outright purchase used to be the only way to get solar, and it's still the option that provides the best dollar-for-dollar returns. The reason it's so great is that you own the system from day one and reap all the benefits. The Federal and State tax credit and electricity savings bring your first-year costs way down.
In our example, you put down $17,500 up front, but by the end of year 1, incentives and energy savings will erase a bunch of it. Over 25 years, your system will have produced nearly $18,000 in income.
Here’s how the numbers pencil out when you pay up front for a 5-kW rooftop solar system in Colorado:
We calculated these numbers for an average Colorado home, without rebates or performance payments. Read more at those links to see if you qualify for any of the state's incentives, and be sure to sign up for a custom quote from one of our local installer partners in Colorado!
- Installing a typical 5kW solar system should start at about $17,500. Don’t worry – even without rebates, your first-year costs will be considerably less than that.
- Since the Feds calculate their incentive based on actual out of pocket costs, the lack of rebates means a bigger federal solar tax credit. Subtract $5,250 (30% of $17,500) for a new price of $12,250.
- After the tax credit we subtract your first year’s energy savings, which we estimate to be about $889. That reduces your cost after the first year to only $11,361.
- Over the 25-year life of your system, you'll see a total net profit of $17,993, after the system pays for itself.
- And don't forget... your home's value just increased by more than $20,000, too (your expected annual electricity savings over 20 years)!
- In addition to all that cash (and home value), you’ve created some green for the earth as well by not using electricity from fossil fuels. It's like planting 123 trees a year, every year your solar power system is humming.
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in Colorado. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar panel system, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 2: Using a loan to pay for solar
Don't have $18,000 sitting around to pay for solar? No sweat! As long as you have equity in your home, you can still own solar panels and reap all the benefits. Heck, even if you do have the cash, getting a loan to pay for solar is still the best option when it comes to percentage return on investment.
That’s because using a loan to pay for solar is like investing in a really sweet IRA. Making your loan payments almost like funding an investment account, because the solar panels on your roof produce income (returns). Once the loan is paid off (fully vested), you're making almost $1,200/year in profits, netting thousands over the 25-year life of your system.
A solar purchase like this will make sense for you if the following is true about you and your current situation:
- You can qualify for a solar loan or home-equity line of credit (HELOC) for $17,500, with a fixed rate of 4.5% or lower and a 15-year repayment period.
- You love making money without much risk
The reason this works so well is that you don’t have to put any money down, but you still get all of the incentives that go along with buying solar. You'll get the 30% federal tax credit in year 1, and the energy bill savings will start right away. Like we mentioned above, your loan payments will be a tiny bit higher than those energy bill savings, so you'll end up spending about $64/month for solar in the first year. That difference will come down each year as electricity prices rise, but your system will keep on producing about the same amount of electricity.
Here’s how the numbers pencil out for a Colorado solar purchase financed with a loan:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $17,500. That's how big your loan will need to be to cover it.
- The electricity you'll save in the first year of operation would have cost $889, but your loan payments will total $1,442, for a difference of $553, or about $46 per month.
- That's not so bad when you consider your tax savings for the year will be $5,250! You'll come out $4,697 ahead in year 1, which should help ease the burden of loan payments for a few years, at least.
- The benefits of that early tax break are so great that you'll only begin spending money in year 9. And after the loan is paid off, your profits stack up just like if you bought the system outright. You'll end up with $12,607 in profits over our 25-year example.
- On top of the green that will stay in your pocket, your system will mean green for the environment, too. 123 trees-worth, every year!
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in Colorado. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar loan, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 3: Buying the electricity, not the panels with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)
Coloradans have long enjoyed the ability to get solar from a third-party company and pay monthly, and getting solar with a lease or Power-Purchase Agreement (PPA) is still a great way to go. The state legislature and public utilities commissions are generally into letting people go solar in a number of ways, so there isn't much reason to worry that utility companies will start trying to impose monthly fees on solar homeowners like they have in other states.
For now, signing a PPA for a 5-kW solar system can save you about $11 per month, which might not seem like much, but adds up to big money over the 20-year PPA Contract.
Here's how a solar PPA works:
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in Colorado. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar PPA, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Is solar right for your Colorado home?
If you answer “yes” to each of the following questions, you’re probably a good candidate for solar.
- Do you own your home?
- Does your roof get direct sun for most of the day?
- Does your electricity bill bother you (specifically how much you have to pay)?
The ideal home for solar has a south- or west-facing roof that gets little to no shade throughout the day. The roof can be covered with anything from asphalt shingles to clay or slate tiles, but the easiest roofs to work with are asphalt and standing-seam metal roofs.
Even if your home does not completely meet these conditions, you may still see huge savings from going solar. Your installer will take everything into account when providing you with a savings estimate.
And hey, if your roof just isn't right at the moment, that doesn't mean solar power can't improve your life. For a quick way to bring some of the benefits of solar, check out outdoor solar lights. Installing them beats running wires under your yard!
We get more in-depth with roof shape, covering, and orientation in two useful articles:
The step-by-step process for going solar in Colorado
The most important thing to know about the entire process of going solar is that your solar installer is good at this stuff.
They'll make sure all the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted during the whole process:
- Step 1: Getting and comparing quotes
- Step 2: Financing your system
- Step 3: Sign a contract with an installer, and what comes after
- Step 4: Installation, Inspection & Interconnection
- Step 5: Operation, Maintenance and Claiming the Tax Credit
Step 1: Getting and Comparing Quotes
There are now many slick solar estimate tools online. Some have you draw lines on your roof from satellite imagery to place your panels and explain your savings. Others pit solar companies against each other in an automated battle for your dollars. Others still track the sun over the course of the year to show you your electric production with the panels you just struggled to draw on your roof.
In our view, they're all a waste of time. If you're serious about installing panels, the best way to get an accurate view of your costs and savings is to get actual quotes instead of messing around with these online tools.
After all, you're not a solar PV designer, it's better to let an expert who knows what they're doing use their own fancy tools for you (believe us—they have fancy tools).
Also, nothing beats a human connection from a trusted source. We've been forging relationships with strong partners and installers since 2007. They know what they're doing, and they're good people.
When you complete our form, we'll connect you with them. You’ll quickly get an accurate reflection of how much electricity your roof can make, how much your system will cost, and how long it will take before you see a profit. In Colorado, with a loan or PPA, you'll be in the green immediately.
What you should look for in a solar installer
If you seek solar quotes directly from providers without our help, be sure to judge them by the following criteria. All partners in our network are:
- Trained and Skilled - The standard for solar installers is certification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP for short). That means they’ve undergone training and passed tests that ensure they know what they’re doing.
- Experienced - How many solar systems has the company installed? A minimum of 10 is a good number to shoot for, unless you know they company well. Of course, choosing Tesla or Sunrun means you’re with a company that has installed thousands of systems, but their process can seem less personal, and their prices are often higher than smaller companies.
- Well-regarded - Look at reviews of solar providers on Yelp and Google and other review sites. Or simply ask the salesperson to speak with one of the company’s former clients. Solar owners generally love talking about their systems, and you can benefit from their experience.
- Licensed, bonded, and insured - Make sure the installation crew includes a licensed electrician, because if not, that can be a surprise charge to get the system hooked up.And of course, the company you’re going with has to be bonded and insured in case they do any damage to your home.
The solar quote process
Your first contact with one of our solar providers will be over the phone. They’ll take a look at a satellite photo of your roof and verify some simple details about you and your home. Many will be able to provide you a complete estimate without coming to your house. If you prefer, you can review your estimate in person.
Information included in solar quotes
Your quote will include information about how many panels will be used, how much electricity they can produce, your expected savings over time, and more.
- System size - System size isn't just about the square footage the panels will occupy on your roof. In the solar industry, size refers to the number of watts your system can produce in full sun. The average solar panel puts out 250 watts at a time, so your installer would call a system of 20 panels a "5-kW system."
- Energy production - Your solar panels' energy production is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), just like your electricity usage is measured by your utility company. The quote will include an estimate of the average kWh your system will produce per year, and might even show you how the seasons affect expected production by month.
- Cost and incentives - Solar system prices are quoted as "total cost" and "dollars per watt." For example, a 5-kW system that costs $15,500 has a $3.10 cost per watt. These are the first figures to compare what you’re being offered. The installer should also show you the available incentives that being the net cost of the installation down. Everyone is eligible for the federal solar tax credit of 30% of the system's cost, but there may be local incentives available, as well.
Note: if you're considering a PPA, you won't be eligible for incentives, and the cost section will include your expected costs per kWh.
- Equipment - Not all solar panels are created equal, but nearly all the panels used by reputable installers should be able to reliably make electricity for the next 25 years. The options are numerous, and your installer should be able to provide you quotes for a few different kinds. For example, if having panels made in the USA is important to you, your installer should be able to offer you a quote for a system using panels from the USA and panels made elsewhere.
- Warranties - A solar system has multiple warranties that cover the panels, the inverter, and the installer’s work on your roof. What can change between quotes is the length of the warranties and what they cover. Read our full post on solar warranties and what they cover.
Deciding which solar quote is the best
Now for the easy part: choosing which solar company has the best offer. If one installer offers a lower cost per watt using great equipment, they might be the best choice. Just keep in mind that important considerations other than price set solar companies apart.
Larger installers are all about full service and efficiency, making the process of going solar fast and streamlined. They all offer in-house financing options and multiple ways to pay, and they might also throw in bonuses like free monitoring equipment and long-term warranties.
Smaller installers don’t have the overhead of national solar companies, so they can compete more on price. You might even develop a meaningful relationship with a member of your community who has been doing this for a while, and if something goes wrong with your system, it might feel better to pick up the phone to call them rather than an 800 number tied to a high-volume call center. Just keep an eye on their financing offerings. Third-party lenders for solar financing sometimes include finance charges or higher interest that can mean you save less in the long run.
For more of our guidance on choosing an installer, check out these useful articles:
- #1: Why you should get multiple solar quotes and check the math
- #2: 9 crucial things to look for in a solar installer
- #3: How to negotiate with a solar installer.
Step 2: Financing your system
If you plan to pay up front, this step is easy. Just get your checkbook out and make it happen, high-roller! But if you’re interested in a loan or PPA, it’s time to explore options.
Many installers will offer you financing at this point. Compare their offer to the other options you have. If they offer third-party financing, it might be time to explore a HELOC with your bank before you sign their financing arrangement.
We discussed the options in the section on loans above, but here’s a quick refresher:
- Home Equity - Probably the best way to pay for solar, because you control it, the rates are lower, and you can repay it in a more flexible way.
- Solar loans - Most installers will offer some kind of The big guys like Sunrun, Vivint and Tesla/Solarcity have their own loans they can offer you, but most mid-sized installers work with a 3rd-party solar loan provider like Mosaic. These loans are usually structured with the solar tax credit as a balloon payment after 1 year, and the balance of the system cost as a long-term loan at 5%-7% interest.
- PACE loans - Property-Assessed Clean Energy financing is good for people who don’t have amazing credit or tons of equity, but who plan to live in their home for years to come and don’t mind slightly higher interest rates. The loan is repaid through your property tax bill, the interest is often tax-deductible, and repayment can be spread across as many as 25 years.
Don't forget about PPAs
If you don’t mind giving up a little control and letting your solar company own the panels, choose a PPA instead. These are only available through an installer, since they’ll be the ones who own the system.
Again, a PPA is best if you don’t have enough income to take advantage of the 30% federal solar tax credit, but it can work for anybody. It’s generally simpler than owning your own system. You just sign on the dotted line and start getting lower cost electricity from your solar company.
Step 3: Signing a contract, and what happens after
So, you’ve settled on a solar installer, and lined up the funding to pay for your shiny new panels! After you sign on the dotted line, it’s time for the pros to begin their work!
First up, you’ll be seeing a few folks out for site inspections. There will be a master electrician out to look at your main circuit panel and wiring, a solar contractor to do a detailed analysis of your roof and determine the best placement for the panels, and a roofing contractor to examine the structural integrity of your roof.
Design and permitting
Following the inspections, the system designer will get to work on a digital design for your system. Your solar company will finalize the design and components, and give you a final price for approval. Once you’ve authorized the final design, your solar installer will finalize the documents and submit them to your locality for permitting.
Step 4: Installation, Inspection & Interconnection
Colorado is a mature solar market and most installers have their procedures down pat. Installation, which used to take several days, now usually takes between 4 and 8 hours. Unless your roof is complicated or your electrical systems need updating, your crew should arrive, perform their duties, and be done within one day.
Your installer will have already completed their site surveys and the workers on the truck will know exactly what they're installing and where. The crew will arrive at your home, set up their gear and get to work on your roof.
The first thing they'll do is mark off all the places the solar panel mounts will be placed, then attach those mounts to your roof. If you'd like to know more about the big metal bolts that will be screwed into your rafters, check out an article on how solar panels are attached to your roof.
The crew will then install the racks and panels, making connections that either wire the panels together in strings, or bring the wires from the micro-inverters together. If the crew includes a master electrician, that person will make the final connections between the panel, inverter, and your main AC panel (you may have to wait a day or two for the master electrician to finish the wiring).
What the heck are micro-inverters?
Traditionally, solar panels are wired in a series and connected to a single inverter box, which converts the electricity from DC to AC so it can be used in your home. Those large inverters work great for most people, but tend to make the system overall a tiny bit less efficient. Also, if a shadow or cloud passes over and blocks sunlight to some of your panels, the whole system suffers.
Micro-inverters, on the other hand, are attached to the back of every panel, which ensures that the maximum energy output of each panel reaches your home wiring. They cost a little more, but for a house with a partially-shaded roof, they can pay for themselves quickly.
Here's an infographic showing how the two types of inverters differ:
Inspection and Interconnection
After your system is installed, it needs to be connected to the grid, and for that, you’ll need to have it inspected. Your installer will line all this up for you, too, and it may take between a couple days and a couple weeks to get the final inspections scheduled and completed.
Your city may require an inspection from the fire department, but the most important inspection will come from the utility company, who will send out someone to examine your system’s components and wiring and install the new electric meter that will record your solar kWhs.
At this point, you might even get a chance to turn the system on yourself!
Step 5: Operation, Maintenance, and claiming your tax credit
So you’ve got a shiny new solar system installed and it’s working. Now what? To be honest, not much. Solar panels are the platonic ideal of a Ron Popeil creation: set it and forget it. Still, you might find yourself compulsively checking your monitoring software to ensure those panels are working as promised.
After the deep breath of fresh air that comes with seeing your new electric bills, you'll relax into a state of solar bliss. During other moments, you'll smile as you think of all the acreage of forest you basically just planted using only the few hundred square feet of your roof.
There are a few important things to know after your panels are installed:
- How to maintain your solar panels
- How to tell if your panels are working
- What to do if they break down
- How to claim the federal tax credit for solar
How to maintain your solar panels
Maintaining solar panels is a breeze. Solar panels are designed to handle rain, wind, snow, hail, and whatever nature throws at them for 25 years or more. All the maintenance a solar panel system needs is a yearly rinse and squeegee to take off extra dust and grime; maybe 2 or three times yearly if you live in a very dusty place. You can get by with a hose, if you need to.
If you own the system, either with a loan or having paid cash, you can expect to do (or contract out) the work yourself. If you have a solar PPA contract, this annual or semi-annual cleaning may be included as part of your agreement, or you may have the responsibility to do any cleaning yourself. Be sure to look for this information as part of a PPA offer.
How to tell if your solar components are working
Other than cleaning, you may someday experience the failure of one or more components. Right off the bat, you should be able to see whether your panels are delivering energy on the panel of your inverter or net meter.
Read the user manual of your inverter to find out how to access the proper information, but most inverters will have a real-time production number on an LCD readout right on the front.
If you have a system with a central inverter, you will likely need to replace it after 10-15 years. If, instead, you have micro-inverters attached to each panel, they should last for the life of your system, and if not, they’re usually covered by 25-year warranties.
Your installer may also have included monitoring software as part of your installation, either on a screen attached to your system or on the web. The monitoring software will tell you if the system is functioning properly, and, if you have micro-inverters on each of your panels, can even tell you if any panels are not working as they should.
If you discover that one or more of your panels isn’t working, it’ll be time to file a warranty claim.
What to do if your panels stop working
If you’ve done a good job by choosing one of our installer partners, you’ve got warranties that cover the installation (e.g., watertightness of roof penetrations and structural integrity of your roof), the panels (manufacturing defects) and the energy (production guarantee).
Your first step is to figure out who to contact. If you have a PPA contract, that step is simple: call your installer or contact them via their customer portal. That might also be the case if you sign up for a solar loan from a big installer. Oftentimes, the loan comes with a similar kind of protection.
If, however, you went with a different installer, perhaps sourced through a different website, you’re probably stuck looking through the paperwork you got with the system to find the manufacturers of your panels, inverter, or other components.
How to claim the federal tax credit for solar
Claiming the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC, for short) is easy, just have your personal assistant fax all the necessary paperwork to your accountant in the Caymans, and wait for your huge refund.
Oh wait, you don't have millions in an offshore account? Then we've got the necessary info for you. The ITC is claimed by filling out a special schedule, Form 5695, and entering the credit amount from that into your 1040 form.
For your edification and convenience, we've prepared a step-by-step guide to claiming the solar tax credit.
Colorado Solar Policy Information
Ever wonder why solar seems to be everywhere in some states, but not in others? We did too.
State legislatures and public utilities commissions can enact rules to make solar power accessible for everyone. Favorable rules explain why some of the cloudiest states—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, are doing so well with solar, and yet some of those with the most natural solar resources—like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia—are doing so poorly.
Below is important information about the public policy, rules, and economic reasons that affect your ability to go solar here in Colorado:
30% by 2020
Colorado was the first state to pass a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), and they continue to have one of the best such standards with their laudable goal of 30% renewable energy by 2020.
Colorado also mandates that by 2020 at least 3% of retail sales must come from distributed generation (“DG”), i.e. , not from giant, environmentally destructive power plants. Even better, at least half of that DG energy must come from local sources.
A strong state RPS is a critical part of the total solar package. By setting a high RPS like 30%, Colorado is not only setting a strong policy standard for other states to follow, they’re also setting high targets for the utility companies to meet. It is, after all, the utilities that sell the electricity to all you Coloradans; a great deal of the burden of meeting the RPS standards falls on them.
What does all this mean for you? It means that you want to make the switch to solar now, while you are being offered all this free money! The utility companies don’t want to just give you cash. They need customers to switch to renewable energy sources to help them meet those state-mandated renewable, distributed generation, and locally produced energy goals.
You can be certain that once the utility companies have met their share of those goals, they will stop supplementing your solar installation costs. That’s why Xcel, for instance, is only accepting a limited number of program entrants for its solar performance payments (more about this later). You know you want all that free money to help you save your wallet (and the environment)!
What's an RPS? Your state legislature paves the way for strong solar energy incentives to flourish by setting standards for renewable energy generation within their territories. Those standards are called the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). If utility companies do not meet these standards, they must pay alternative compliance fees directly to the state. Many utilities then determine the best ways to source their energy from renewable sources that are less expensive than this fee.
An RPS is a mandate that says "Hey utilities! Y'all now have to make a certain percentage of your electricity from renewable sources. If not, you'll have to pay us huge fines." The consequences are good, because utilities usually try to meet these RPS standards by creating solar power incentives for you, the homeowner. Read more about Renewable Portfolio Standards.
RPS solar carve out
3% by 2020
While it isn’t explicitly a solar carve out, Colorado does require that at least 3% of the electricity sold by the state’s Investor-Owned Utilities come from distributed energy resources. That’s a fancy way of saying that they need lots of homeowners to serve electricity to the grid, and we think the best way is through generation of clean, reliable solar power!
What's a solar set aside? A solar set aside guarantees a specific portion of the overall renewable energy mix generated comes from the sun. For those states with progressive standards, high alternative compliance payments, and clear solar carve outs, the faster those areas become ripe for solar.
Some states have higher alternative compliance fees than others, and some states have more progressive alternative energy standards and deadlines than others do.
For instance, New Jersey has an overall RPS of 22.5% by the year 2021. That requires local utilities to source 22.5% of their energy mix from renewable sources by the year 2021. Pretty good. However, New Jersey also has a specific solar set aside of 4.1% by 2028. That’s the type of firm commitment which really gets the industry rolling forward. No wonder why New Jersey is one of the hottest solar markets right now!
Colorado Electricity Prices
Colorado homeowners pay about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour(kWh) of energy, just about even with the national average. So power these days isn’t prohibitively expensive; in fact it’s cheap enough that you may wonder why we are making all this fuss about solar power paying for itself in your electricity savings.
But think about why energy is currently so cheap. Ding ding ding! It comes from fossil fuels, which have been abundant and free-flowing for decades. Thing is, no matter whether you love burning coal or you love hugging trees, we can all look at the trend for energy prices and see that they will continue to go up, year after year, for the foreseeable future.
If electricity were simply to increase at a rate of 3.5% for the next 20 years, we’ll be looking at a doubling of electricity charges from the utility. Your power bill for 1200 kWh of usage will now total an average $236 a month for what used to cost $100/month.
Don’t think it can happen? Think again. A 3.5% increase is a conservative estimate for the mountain region. There was a 4.5% increase from 2013 to 2014 alone.
But as we said above, every home and everyone’s energy usage is different. The best way to see if solar is right for you is to connect with one of our installers on the ground. They’ll give you a free quote. Free is good. Costs you nothing but time, and if solar is right for you, well, you’re Golden- as in Colorado.
Why are electricity prices so important? Because that is what solar power is directly competing against. The cost to produce power with solar is relatively constant (of course how much sun hits your area has an effect), so if you are paying $0.40 per watt for power, then you make FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the guy or girl paying $0.10 per watt electricity.
The caveat here is that if the $0.10 per watt person has a HUGE rebate, they may be better off than the $0.40 per watt person. Because of that, states without any renewable standards tend to be heavily reliant on cheap coal for electricity, and also have very low electricity prices. When electricity prices are artificially low, that hinders the ability of solar energy to achieve meaningful payback in the state.
Colorado Net Metering
Net metering is one of the keys to successful solar policy, and Colorado may just have the best net metering laws in the country. In short, net metering makes sure that you get credit, either in energy or in cash, for every bit of energy you produce. Your utility will track how much solar power you produce and how much you use, and the utility will ‘store” any extra power your solar system produces. At night or on cloudy days, the utility credits your surplus power back to you.
In addition, Colorado requires utilities to pay you for the net excess energy that your system produces over the course of a year. So if you’re smart about your energy usage, your solar panel can actually turn a profit! The utility company will literally cut you a check at the end of the year for any extra solar juice you’ve contributed to the grid. Colorado makes taking advantage of those savings even easier, allowing you to opt either for the check or to simply roll your extra credit to any subsequent monthly bills. Have we mentioned how we like our renewable energy laws? You rock, Colorado.
What is net metering? Net metering is the billing arrangement where you can sell excess electricity back to your utility for equal the amount you are charged to consume it. The more customer friendly net metering policies, the higher the grade.
The grade here specifically reflects individual solar system capacity, caps on program capacity limits, restrictions on “rollover” of kWh from one month to the next (yep just like cell phone minutes), metering issues (like charges for new meters), Renewable Energy Credit (REC) ownership, eligible customers and technology (the more renewables the better), being able to aggregate meters across the property for net metering, and safe harbor provisions to protect customers from solar tariff changes.
Colorado Interconnection Rules
Statewide with caveats
Interconnection refers to the rules and restrictions that govern how solar power systems are connected to the utility company’s lines. Colorado does a good job here, following federal recommendations, but they could improve by eliminating solar farm size restrictions and requirements to get additional insurance for solar installations.
Interconnection rules are a little technical, but they basically allow you to “plug in” to the electric grid with solar panels on your roof. The more complex, out of date, or nonsensical the state rules are for plugging into the grid, the lower the grade.
Specifically, the grade reflects what technologies are eligible, individual system capacity, removing interconnection process complexity for smaller systems, interconnection timelines and charges, engineering charges, prohibiting the requirement of unnecessary external disconnects, certification, spot interconnection vs. wide area interconnection, technical screens, friendliness of legalese, insurance requirements, dispute resolution, and rule coverage.
Solar Incentives in Colorado
Next to high electricity prices and net metering, solar incentives have traditionally been the most important factor for whether home solar power makes financial sense in a state. In the past, some states with otherwise lousy policy had tremendous incentives that drove down the up-front cost of going solar so much that homeowners could save oodles of money even without net metering or a good RPS.
These days, the big incentive most people can get is the Federal Solar Tax Credit that earns you 30% of your costs back after just 1 year. State incentives play less of a role than in the past, but some really good ones are still out there, ready to help homeowners go solar and save money before you know it.
Let's see how Colorado measures up:
Colorado Solar Power Rebates
Varies by utility
The real vein of Rockies gold for solar comes from Colorado’s utility companies. They have to meet the state’s RPS guidelines, so they’re willing to help you put solar on your roof, just for joining the world of electricity generation. Truth be told, though, the big, fat rebates of years past are all but gone in the Rocky Mountain State. The good news is prices for solar have dropped by about the same amount of the erstwhile rebate money! The rebates worked!
Here’s a guide to some of the utility-based programs out there right now:
|Utility Company||Rebate amount||Notes|
|Colorado Springs Utilities||$.25/watt||Subject to equipment warranty requirements.|
|City of Boulder||$500||Must be installed by a NABCEP-certified installer|
|Eagle County||$500||Must be installed by a NABCEP-certified installer|
|Holy Cross Energy||$400-$750/kW, based on size||Initial rebate of $750/kW for the first 6 kW of solar, $500/kW for the second 6kW, and $200 for the final 13kW, up to 25kW max. Max of $10,100.|
|La Plata Electric Association||$16/kW (up-front payment of REC purchases)||Incentive switches to performance payments for systems larger than 10kW|
|Lake County||$400||Must be installed by a NABCEP-certified installer|
|Poudre Valley REA||$1/watt||Maximum incentive of $3,000 per customer|
|Roaring Fork Valley||$.75/watt||Up to $2,250|
|San Miguel Power Association||$.50/watt||Maximum incentive of $1,500|
A few Colorado towns offer solar incentives. For example, the cities of Aurora and Lakewood will refund 100% of the solar installation permit fee. Yes, it is the city charging the permit fee in the first place, but a refund is a refund!
How do solar rebates work? Similar to getting a rebate card from your local big box store for a dishwasher purchase, state legislatures also provide rebates for solar panel purchases to spur on investment and create new jobs. If you purchase the solar panel system yourself, you qualify for this free cash, which many times is a lump payment back to you. Some solar installers like to take this amount directly off the total installed price, and they'll handle the paperwork for you to make things a lot less complex.
The availability of state and utility rebates were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The better the rebates, the higher the grade.
Colorado Solar Power Tax Credits
This is where Colorado is missing the mark on solar policy. A solar power tax credit has proven to be a great help to citizens of forward-looking states. But don’t get too down; the US government still offers a sweet, sweet 30% federal tax credit.
About state solar tax credits: State tax credits are not technically free money. However, they are 'credits' and not 'deductions' which means that if you have the tax appetite to take advantage of them, then they can be a 1-to-1 dollar amount off your taxes instead of a fraction of the cost of the system. So that means they can be an important factor to consider. In certain circumstances, state tax credits can provide a very powerful incentive for people to go solar.
(Keep in mind, we are not tax professionals and give no tax advice so please consult a professional before acting on anything we say related to taxes)
The availability of personal tax credits for solar energy were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the tax credit amount, the higher the grade.
Solar Power Performance Payments
Only one Colorado power company will actually pay you in cash based on energy produced: Xcel Energy. Yes we said Xcel. That means that if you’re one of the millions of people in Denver, Boulder, Littleton, or any other Xcel-served city, in addition to helping fund your installation costs, your utility company will literally pay you cash for every kilowatt-hour of solar energy you produce!
Just be sure not to miss out on the opportunity, Xcel will stop offering these incentives after residential-scale solar production goals have been met, and most of the available program space has already been claimed. If you can get in to the program in 2018, you'll receive $.005 per kWh your system produces. In Colorado, a 5kW system will churn out roughly 7000kWh annually, so that's about an extra $35 in your pocket. Not much, but every little bit helps.
If you want a bigger payout and have land with the space to install a minimum 25-kW solar installation (about 100 panels, or 18,000 sqaure feet, Xcel offers a souped-up program that pays $.0425/kWh, which can put an extra $1,600 on your bottom line each year. Now that's a good deal.
Explanation of performance payments: Performance payments represent a big chunk of the financial rationale for going solar, and in many instances they make your decision a wise one. For certain states, if you’ve got solar panels on your roof, not only will you be cutting your electric bill down to size, but you'll be getting paid additional cash from your utility company. Pretty awesome, huh? Not only are you generating electricity for yourself, freezing your own popsicles with sun, and feeling like you’re doing something smart for your children or any of the other 4 reasons people go solar, but you are getting PAID!
Utility companies are paying people with solar panels on their roofs because their states say they have to, otherwise they will pay a fee. Therefore, the payment amount to homeowners is typically a little bit less than the amount they would be billed for by the state. For states with these alternative compliance fees, Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) exchanges have popped up. In the above chart, we outlined an estimate of yearly payments a homeowner might expect from the utility company for the SREC credits from their solar energy system.
Expected SREC payments were calculated by using the latest trade values in the SRECtrade database. The availability of feed-in tariffs were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the expected monthly payments, the higher the grade.
We've got a great article if you like to read more about what SRECs are and how to earn them.
Property Tax Exemption
A solar installation adds value to the home it’s installed on. Like, we’re talking thousands of dollars, here. The good news in Colorado is that homeowners who go solar will not pay a single, solitary, Denver-minted penny in taxes on that value. Thanks, Colorado!
About solar property tax exemptions: Property tax exemption status is a pretty big factor when putting together your investment considerations. Some argue that solar power adds approximately 20 times your annual electricity bill savings (if you own the system and are not leasing). Other studies seem to indicate a home price premium about equal to solar panel cost, minus any incentives like the federal solar tax credit.
For many average-sized solar power systems on a house, that can mean adding $20,000 to your home value. And if you don't believe us, believe the bean counters: Many banks and solar financing companies now offer traditional style equity-based home loans for installing solar. An additional $20,000 in property tax basis in many states amounts to a big chunk of change owed back to the state. However, many states have complete exemptions from added taxes when you install solar on your home!
The availability of a property tax exemption for solar energy was sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Grades in this category are basically all-or-nothing. Either you got it or you don't. Thankfully, many states have "got it.".
Sales Tax Exemption
When you install a residential solar system in Colorado you are exempt from 100% of related sales and use taxes. Now that’s how we like our renewable energy laws: simple, smart, and saving you money.
What's the deal with solar power sales tax exemptions? When states give you a sales tax break on solar, we notice. You should too. State sales tax exemption status for the purchase of solar energy systems were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Sales tax exemptions, if present, were all 100%. A handful of states are completely exempt from sales tax regardless, and therefore received ‘A’ grades by default (OR, DE, MT, AK, and NH).
The final word on Colorado home solar rebates and incentives:
Colorado home solar is absolutely great! An average-sized system here pays its cost back in just 9 years, meaning you can count on up to 16 years of free electricity while your panels remain under their 25-year warranties. You might have trouble finding an installer in rural areas, but anyone east of the Rockies should have an easy time getting solar on their roof and saving money.