Posted in Solar   September 28, 2020

Benton PUD pays out $1.2 million in state-sponsored solar incentives

The annual solar incentive payments mark the end of the generous Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Incentive Program (RECRIP) offered through Washington State.
In 2015, Benton PUD heard and responded to customer interest in solar power by launching the Solar Connections program and installing the first of two community solar projects.  The second project was installed in 2016.  At the time, Washington State had a very generous incentive program in place, and community solar projects were one way to unlock the benefits for  customers. 

Benton PUD had 112 customers enroll in the Ely Community Solar Project located at Benton PUD headquarters in Kennewick and 42 enroll in the Old Inland Empire Community Solar Project located at the Benton PUD Prosser facility.  Participants in the community solar projects received $1.08 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of generated electricity through June 30, 2020 and will continue to receive energy credits on their power bills for the life of the projects.  Those who installed their own solar systems were initially eligible for up to $0.54 per kWh, depending on the equipment installed.  As a point of reference, Benton PUD residential electricity rates have averaged about $0.07 per kWh for the last five years, which illustrates why the Washington State RECRIP represented one of the most generous programs in the country. Participants in RECRIP were eligible to receive a combined maximum incentive payment of $5,000 per household annually, in addition to a monthly offset to their energy bill based on the energy production of their solar power system.

As a follow on to RECRIP, the Renewable Energy System Incentive Program (RESIP) was adopted by Washington state in 2017 with a $110 million  program cap, which was exceeded within the first two years of the four-year program.  Benton PUD continues to assist customers installing solar on their home or property; however, there are currently no state incentives available for new systems. 

Although Benton PUD makes direct payments to its customers participating in the state-sponsored solar incentive programs, the incentive payments are ultimately funded by the state through a credit on Benton PUD’s public utility tax, which is budgeted to be $5.5 million in 2020. The result is zero direct cost to Benton PUD customers and a decrease in annual tax revenue for the state. The last state-sponsored solar incentive program payments made by Benton PUD are scheduled to occur in 2027 unless a new program is initiated. Individual customer-related incentive programs may have ended, but the state does offer sales tax exemptions for the development of specific renewable generating facilities, including solar, that meet certain requirements. The new exemptions were part of the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) legislation that passed in April 2019. The newly established exemptions run through 2029.

Overall, Benton PUD has 452 customers with their own solar systems representing a combined capacity of 4,407 kilowatts.  The maximum combined and concurrent solar power generation from customer-owned systems reached 3,162 kilowatts in June of this year with annual energy production of 591 average kilowatts.  To put this in perspective, Benton PUD’s total demand for electricity reached a level of 437,000 kilowatts in July of this year and our total annual average energy consumption is about 210,000 average kilowatts.

For more information on our Solar Connections program, please call (509) 582-1234.