California Gives Rebates for Commercial Pools Heated by Solar Power

solar panels

A new set of legislation passed last year is finally going into effect. It will give California pool building companies and property owners rebates for building commercial pools heated by solar power.

Both solar companies and pool builders alike are hoping to see a boost in the rebates’ usage in the upcoming spring and summer months.

There was already an existing program for residential pools in the state of California (The California Solar Initiative Thermal Program) that began back in 2007. It has offered rebates for residential projects and solar hot water heating systems but the program excluded any commercial builds.

Owner of California-based Suntrek Industries, Roy Heine, was concerned about the viability of solar pool heating in a system that wasn’t rewarding builders for implementing the technology. “Adoption of solar pool heating for commercial pools has been fragmented,” Heine said. “Market penetration has not been strong.”

Suntrek Industries, based in Irvine, CA, has been on the forefront of solar technology, installing solar swimming pool heaters in 20,000 of their completed projects. However, only 1,000 of them have been commercial. With the implementation of this new legislation, the company is looking at eligible solar pool projects at hotels and housing complexes.

Qualifying for the rebate takes a little work, as projects must meet certain requirements from several program administrators: Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Co., and the Center for Sustainable Energy. In addition, contractors need to complete a one-day qualification training.

A Sacramento based company, Aztec Solar Inc., had previously completed commercial solar pool heating projects for community pools and schools and is anticipating an influx of these types of projects thanks to the new rebate. President of Aztec Solar Inc. President Ed Murray remarked, “It should increase [the number of projects] dramatically. We should probably be doing 20 or so this year, I would guess, where we did maybe eight last year.”

Many companies were cautious in the beginning because the legislation took so long to go into effect. Although it passed in January 2013 in anticipation of the following summer, there were several delays that made builders and contractors cautious. It seems as though all the kinks have been worked out at this point as now both the rebates and an online tool to help builders calculate a project’s rebate are live and running smoothly.

Last year’s woes were enough to concern some builders who wanted to ensure the rebates would roll through after the build was completed. A suburban LA company, Ameco Solar, was concerned by the program’s delay.

“We have a few projects that we bid, but I wanted to wait,” said Patrick Redgate, company president and CEO. “We’ve been in business 40 years, and we didn’t last this long by being premature. Now that the program pretty much is going, we’ll be able to put together [a number of projects] and hopefully get them going.”

Redgate went on to comment on the progress of the solar industry and the longevity of Ameco Solar.

“We’ve done a number of commercial jobs over the last 40 years in pool heating throughout the state, and there aren’t too many solar companies that can claim that. We want to take advantage of our capabilities and our reputation.”

The rebate is set to reimburse pool owners for a significant amount of project costs, approximately 50 percent by the majority of estimates. The program is tiered, meaning it rewards the first projects to take advantage of the rebates; the first eligible projects will get the most reimbursement.

The first tier is a rebate for $7 per annual therm displaced, second tier is $5 per therm, and then the bottom layer rebate is $3 per therm. The CSI Thermal Program has $300 million total available to distribute via rebates, although there is not a specific amount of money that is earmarked for commercial pool projects.

The rebate is a tempting offer for those looking to receive a return on investment. Where previously, it may have taken more than a decade for some pools to completely pay off the project with energy cost savings, owners should look to be out of the woods in half that time.

There are many organizations considering solar thermal projects with the new rebates: homeowners associations, schools, hotels, and municipalities are all viable targets.

How does Roy Heine of Suntrek feel about the passing of the rebates?

“There’s no better time than now to add a solar pool heating system for a commercial pool.”
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