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Incentives For Solar Begin To Sunset

“Mountlake Terrace TC sign and garage” by SounderBruce is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Solar panels at a transit center in Mountlake Terrace, Snohomish County

Weather in the Puget Sound might be dreary, but that hasn’t dampened the interest in solar energy. Cash incentives have only fueled the attraction. But one very generous program is being phased out, and others are set to follow suit. 


For residents of Snohomish County, going solar has been a great deal.  Besides state incentives, federal tax credits, and a few other enticements, the Snohomish County Public Utility District has a unique program – the only one in the state – that pays extra money to people who make the switch. But the chance to get that payout is expiring in June.

“Solar prices have come down. We’ve seen system costs come down as much as 50 percent. Those incentives have become less and less a driver; customers are able to get better deals on solar energy and we’ve seen really widespread adoption rates," said Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for Snohomish County PUD.

But some manufacturers and installers aren’t so sure.  Federal tax credits are expected to go away, and the state’s own incentive program, which pays home and business owners for every ounce of power they make, is being phased out in 2020. That law was designed to jumpstart the industry.

Patrick Nugent, executive director of Solar Washington says the loss of incentives is just one of the things that make the future of the solar industry feel uncertain.

“Electricity rates in Washington tend to be lower than in other parts of the country, so there might not be that much of a huge incentive for people to make that decision to go solar. So there’s a lot of concern in the industry, certainly about letting this program just expire — kind of cold turkey without some type of transition,” said Nugent.  

In fact, the state Legislature is looking at a bill that would revise the incentives.  Proponents say this refresh of the earlier law would make it more affordable for the state, and ensure predictability for anyone who wants to go solar.