Installation of solar panels isn't cheap, but with the right incentives, it can pay off over the long run in decreased electrical bills. "The goal of most solar (panel) systems is to get as close to eliminating a company or family's electric usage as possible," says Brian Kelly, president of Sea Bright Solar in New Jersey.
A 30 percent dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit is available nationally for residences installing solar panel systems through 2016, says Kelly. State and local incentives, including rebates, can lower installation costs even further. Kelly recommends checking the Department of Energy's website to find solar rebates in your area.
State incentives vary from outright rebates to sales tax exemptions or abatements. Some states offer a solar renewable energy certificate, or SREC, program where power producers (including homeowners) can sell excess solar energy to utility companies.
Kelly says the state usually has a fixed pool of available money if it offers cash back. "If you pre-qualify, you know what you're going to get back," he says. Typically an installer applies for the rebate on behalf of the customer. "You get approved prior to installation," Kelly says, and then you'll have a certain amount of time to install. Kelly says some states only pay the rebate after the full installation, and others pay a portion when the materials arrive and the rest after completion.