Frequently asked questions about solar incentive changes and project size caps

The solar team received inquiries about the new rules for commercial solar incentives in April. The recent pace of solar installations for the commercial market has created very high demand for incentives in both utility territories. In response, Energy Trust implemented new eligibility requirements. These changes are necessary to manage the budget and support the most projects with the remaining dollars.

To help you and your customers understand the new guidelines, we’ve created this Frequently Asked Questions resource. Please contact program staff with further questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What changes were made?
On April 3, 2017, Energy Trust’s Solar program put into effect a new incentive eligibility requirement for commercial projects in both Pacific Power and Portland General Electric territories: a project size cap. PGE projects larger than 250 kilowatts and Pacific Power projects larger than 100 kilowatts are no longer eligible for solar incentives. Refer to the Solar Incentive Status Report for current incentive rates and project size caps.

How are new incentive caps different from before?
To date, the solar program has had incentive caps, but any size net-metered project (up to 2 MW) was eligible to apply. Under the new requirements, PGE projects larger than 250 kilowatts and Pacific Power projects larger than 100 kilowatts are not eligible.

Why is the program making these changes?
Changes are needed to manage the solar incentive budget and support as many projects as possible with the remaining funds. The program has received more and larger projects than expected this year. To manage the limited budget with this level of demand, the program had to reduce the incentives for business customers more frequently, and implement the new project size eligibility caps. Larger projects have a greater impact on the budget, so minimizing the number of large projects is the most effective way to support more projects with the remaining dollars.

Can I install a system larger than the project size cap and apply for an incentive at the project size cap level?
No. Any system larger than the project cap is not eligible for incentives. If it is determined during the design review process or during onsite verification that the installation is larger than the project size cap, the application will be denied and the installation incentive will be forfeited.

A commercial customer reached the project size cap in 2017. Can they apply install another solar system in 2018 and apply for an incentive?
Yes. Commercial customers have a limit on the total incentives they can receive for solar system installations in a calendar year. Commercial incentives “reset” each calendar year and customers are eligible to apply again at the current rates and caps.

How does Energy Trust define a project?
For commercial customers, a single project includes all solar systems installed concurrently and connected to one or more meters serving a single building. For sites with multiple buildings—such as a college campus or business park—each separate building can be considered its own project. In these cases, the customer is still subject to the current annual customer cap for all aggregated projects.

How did you determine the project size for the cap?
Nearly 90 percent of incentive applications for commercial projects are for systems under 100 kW. The project size cap differences for PGE and Pacific Power are based on remaining available budget in each territory, and how quickly incentive steps have been subscribed for each utility this year.

Is your budget smaller this year as compared to previous years?
Energy Trust receives a fixed amount of funding for renewable energy projects every year, and we support a diverse set of technologies. In addition to solar, we offer incentives for small hydropower, biopower, geothermal and wind projects. Each year, Energy Trust staff make budget allocation decisions based on market conditions and projects in the pipeline. In the past, the solar budget has been supplemented with unspent funds that were originally intended for Other Renewable energy projects. This year, we have a large number of biopower and small hydropower projects moving through the pipeline, so there is less supplemental funding available for solar.

Will you run out of money this year?
These changes help ensure incentives are available for as many projects as possible throughout the rest of 2017. We will continue to make changes, as needed, to preserve funding throughout the year.