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NORTH BAY – Solar providers continue to proliferate, and incentives and funding models abound.

The federal government continues to provide incentives to go solar. For the next eight years a tax rebate of 30 percent will be extended to solar installations, making large projects attractive to investors with large tax burdens.

Qualifying small business and residential projects can benefit from the removal of a $2,000 cap on tax credits.

[caption id="attachment_15615" align="alignright" width="108" caption="Gopal Shanker"][/caption]

"Federal policy would benefit from streamlining the number of agencies involved," said solar Napa consultant Gopal Shanker. "You have the Department of Energy handing out a credit and the IRS making conditions about when it can be used."

Businesses whose tax burden has dropped due to the economy can apply for a cash grant in lieu of the credits. Those funds are going fast and will be used up before the end of the year, said Mr. Shanker.

On a state level, PG&E and other large utilities are administrating the California Solar Initiative, which sets aside $950 million in rebates for solar projects, scheduled to run out after 10 years, or perhaps sooner, if demand is high.

Right now a rebate of $1.10 per projected watt is available in Northern California, down from $2 a year ago.

According to Katie Romans, a PG&E spokeswoman, a typical residential system of 4 kilowatts costing $35,000 would earn a rebate of $4,400.

"Along with the federal tax credit of $2,000, the cost of the system would go down to about $28,000, which is a pretty significant incentive," she said.

To qualify, system owners must undergo an energy audit before the system is designed to determine what other measures can reduce energy use. Once the installation is complete another audit determines the expected watt generation and sets the rebate amount.

In partnership with other utilities, PG&E will also offer rebates to builders of new homes who build in solar systems. That program will wind down in 2016. The utilities offer rebates to builders of solar systems in low-income single and multifamily units.

Additional savings can be achieved for residential systems by banding together with neighbors. GoSolarMarin and GoSolarSebastopol are examples. One Block Off the Grid in Sebastopol can help speed the process.

Solar City, SPG and many other solar providers offer power purchase agreements. They or a group of investors will put a solar installation on a property for no up-front costs and sell you the power it generates at rates lower than PG&E's. State and federal rebates and tax credits are taken by the system owners. After 15 to 20 years the system is turned over to the property owner.

For nonprofits, school districts and local governments the National Development Foundation will put together a team of investors to fund a system. Put together for the Gasser Foundation in Napa, the new program is similar to the NDF's funding of low-income housing.

Kent Halliburton, vice president of sales for Real Goods Solar in San Rafael, said his company partners with power purchase agreement providers, leasing companies and a variety of lenders.

"Rather than push one solution on a customer, we can source the right financial package to fit the project," he said.