Should the Solar Tariff Delay Your PV Plans?

The 30% tariff on solar cells and panels announced by the Trump Administration in January will increase the cost of solar installations.  But the affect of this increase is minor enough that you shouldn’t defer solar installation plans—it’s not what it seems!

Headline news has been about the 30% tariff and the resulting sharp increase in solar photovoltaic (PV) panel prices.  News reports have addressed the declining supply of “pre-tariff” panels and how soon they will be gone.  Other reports have focused on the expected loss of solar installer jobs.  All this leads to a perception that rooftop solar, of the kind most congregations would consider, is now out-of-reach.

The reality is far less dramatic: prices are not going up 30%! According to a study at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the PV-panel cost is only 12% of the typical residential system cost; the panel portion of a large commercial system cost is about 18%, while the panel portion of a large, utility-scale system cost is over 30%. The other costs, which include items such as the inverter, hardware, labor, and other “soft costs” (such as permitting, taxes, overhead and profit) dwarf the panel costs for smaller systems; these aren’t affected by the tariff. As a result, a 30% increase in panel prices results in at most a 5% increase in residential and small commercial system costs—the size of most congregational systems.

EnergySage, a business that helps connect customers with local installers, has also analyzed the expected impact of the tariff of rooftop prices.  Using their own extensive database of installations nationwide, they anticipate that the affect of the tariff will be to raise residential-scale prices by 3% – 4%.   Their analysis is posted on their website. Based on their 2017 Solar Installer Survey, they reported 2/3rds of solar installers said they planned to absorb some or all of the cost of the tariff rather than pass these costs on to customers.

In light of these modest impacts, there appears little reason to delay evaluating the environmental and financial benefits a solar PV installation would achieve for your congregation.  Yes, the prices will drop a bit as the tariff steps down in the next four years, but that time may also mark four years of lost CO2 reduction and electricity cost savings.  The tariff is no excuse for not assessing PV’s opportunity for your congregation.

And a reminder….  If you obtain a bid for a project with a local installer, that’s potentially good news for local employees as well as your congregation.  If the system is larger (over 50 kW), then you might want to contact CollectiveSun to discuss financing.  They don’t provide installations—that’s the role of your local contractor.  They have however, worked out proprietary funding mechanisms that can reduce a projects cost 10% – 15% from normal quoted levels.  They have assisted numerous congregational projects nationwide.

The above opinion with hyperlinks to references is also posted at Interfaith Power & Light

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