Property Tax Assessments as a Finance Vehicle for Residential PV Installations: Opportunities and Potential Limitations

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Case Study

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Readily accessible credit has often been cited as a necessary ingredient to open up the market for residential photovoltaic (PV) systems. Though financing does not reduce the high up-front cost of PV, by spreading that cost over some portion of the system's life, financing can certainly make PV systems more affordable. As a result, a number of states have, in the past, set up special residential loan programs targeting the installation of renewable energy systems and/or energy efficiency improvements, and often featuring low interest rates, longer terms, and no-hassle application requirements. Historically, these loan programs have met with mixed success (particularly for PV), for a variety of reasons, including: (1) historical lack of homeowner interest in PV, (2) lack of program awareness, (3) reduced appeal in a low-interest-rate environment, and (4) a tendency for early PV adopters to be wealthy, and not in need of financing. Although some of these barriers have begun to fade – most notably, homeowner interest in PV has grown in some states, particularly those that offer solar rebates – the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) introduced one additional roadblock to the success of low-interest PV loan programs: a residential solar investment tax credit (ITC), subject to the Federal government's "anti-double-dipping" rules. Specifically, the residential solar ITC – equal to 30% of the system's tax basis, capped at $2000 – will be reduced or offset if the system also benefits from what is known as "subsidized energy financing," which is likely to include most government-sponsored low-interest loan programs. Within this context, it has been interesting to note the recent flurry of announcements from several U.S cities concerning a new type of PV financing program. Led by the City of Berkeley, California, these cities propose to offer their residents the ability to finance the installation of a PV system using increased property tax assessments, rather than a more-traditional credit vehicle, to recover both system and administrative costs. As discussed in more detail later, this seemingly innovative approach has a number of features that should appeal to PV owners, including: long-term, fixed-cost, attractive financing; loans that are tied to the tax capacity of the property rather than to the owner's credit standing; a repayment obligation that transfers along with the sale of the property; and a potential ability to deduct the repayment obligation from Federal taxable income, as part of the local property tax deduction.

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Case Studies of State Support for Renewable Energy

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