$30 million DWP solar panel program has $175 million worth of demand

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File photo: Employees of Solar Forward install solar electric panels on a residential rooftop on February 27, 2009 in Santa Monica, California.

Overwhelming demand has caused the L.A. Department of Water and Power to suspend a grant program that puts solar panels on residential rooftops.

Since a California law created the program to promote rooftop solar energy, it’s been wildly popular pretty much everywhere. Other utilities have already suspended grants or established long wait times.

DWP has 2,000 unprocessed applications that represent more than $110 million of demand for a grant pool of $30 million a year.

The utility’s chief Ron Nichols says some ratepayers are moving too fast. That’s another reason to pause the program that underwrites photovoltaic panels on homes.

"We’re having a nontrivial number of our customers put in PV systems on their rooftops before we’ve even confirmed an application," says Nichols. "In some cases, we’ve had people before there’s an inspection by us turned on their equipment."

Nichols considers that anecdotal evidence of a safety problem. He says the utility will suspend approvals for 90 days while it investigates a better set of rules for the grant.

"We’re also going to look at some financing options to see if there’s a method that we can use to move through this list quickly," says Nichols, "in a way that doesn’t create an undue rate problem for us."

Solar companies that sell panels to homeowners have complained that commercial developers aren’t always using the grants they’ve claimed – if, for example, they can’t find financing for a project. DWP has already said it’ll audit the program to make sure all the money gets used.

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