CPS Energy program puts solar panels on customers' roofs

SAN ANTONIO – CPS Energy is just months away from a new "rent the roof" program that would offer homeowners a rebate in exchange for having solar panels installed on their roofs.

"We have this purchase power agreement where essentially we will contract with a third party to install solar panels, essentially at no charge to the customer," said Raiford Smith, vice president of corporate development and planning at CPS Energy.

The homeowner would agree to a contract for the life of the panels -- about 15 years -- and in exchange receive a sort of rent payment in the form of a credit on his or her CPS Energy bill. The utility has not determined how much that credit would be, but said it would be enough to get people interested.

The pilot program is currently in the request for proposals phase. CPS Energy is looking for a development and market partner who would install the panels.

The program aims to remove one of the biggest barriers to installing solar panels: money.

Oscar Samano said he would be on-board if he could avoid the roughly $30,000 cost of installing panels on his own.

"I have a large awning and a large roof. It's a three-bedroom house," Samano said. "We don't have room for the wind turbines, so solar panels would be the best project."

Santiago Rivera agreed that the pilot program could be the only way he'd ever have solar panels on his roof.

"If it's out-of-pocket, no I don't think (I could,) because I'm on a budget plan being retired," he said.

CPS Energy expects to roll-out the program mid-year. The pilot program would only be for a one megawatt generation from about 300-400 homes.

"We really think being innovative in this space, and doing this really solves a lot of problems for a lot of people, and we're looking for robust participation," Smith said.

Once CPS Energy chooses a development and marketing partner, there will be an announcement about how homeowners can apply.

Critics question whether there should be a bill credit at all, and what it would really do for resale value.