Oregonians who want the tax credit up to $6,000 must purchase devices that qualify by Dec. 31, and have them installed in homes or offices by April 1 to be eligible.

A state-level tax credit for renewable energy is slated to expire at the end of the year, and solar companies and organizations are hustling to keep up with the demand.

Oregon’s Residential Energy Tax Credit, an Oregon Department of Energy program that provides a state tax credit of up to $6,000 for applicants who purchase certain energy-efficient devices, including solar panels, will sunset on Dec. 31. The result has been an increase in demand for solar equipment for the rest of the year, as customers attempt to qualify for the credit before it expires.

“This year, we’ve seen more (applications) than usual,” said Kelly Riley, sales coordinator for Sunlight Solar Energy Inc., a Bend-based solar-panel provider.

The tax credit, established in 1979, was designed to encourage Oregon residents to adopt newer, more energy-efficient devices, according to Michael Williams, incentives program manager for the Oregon Department of Energy. He added that the program first made headlines for encouraging more energy-efficient washing machines, and currently covers around 25 types of household devices, ranging from efficient water heaters to active and passive solar energy for homes.

Incentives depend on the type of equipment and the amount of energy it saves, but Williams said it can range from $100 to $1,500 per year over four years.

He added that the program was designated to run for an additional five years in 2012, and it was not renewed during the 2017 legislative session.

As a result, Oregonians who want the credit must purchase devices that qualify by Dec. 31, and have them installed in homes or offices by April 1 to be eligible. Applicants seeking a tax credit for their rooftop solar panels must submit their application using the Department of Energy’s software by the end of December, according to Williams. All other applicants must submit their applications by June 1.

In a typical year, Riley said demand for residential solar panels in Central Oregon begins ramping up in the spring and early summer, tails off in the late summer and early fall, and picks back up a bit near the end of the year. This year, however, she said demand for panels stayed strong through August and September, as people become more aware that a state-level incentive is disappearing.

“It’s increased the awareness that we had a good thing going,” Riley said.

This pattern has occurred throughout Oregon. Hannah Cruz, communications manager for Energy Trust of Oregon, a Portland-based nonprofit, wrote in an email that applications for residential solar energy systems were up 50 percent in September over the prior year.

She added that a typical home will need between 16 and 30 solar panels to meet its energy needs, which can cost around $25,000 to install.

“I think $6,000 (in tax credits) is a big factor,” Riley said.

Because of that, Sunlight Solar Energy is already scheduling installations for rooftop solar panels in 2018 prior to Mar. 31, several months earlier than they otherwise would be. In a typical month, Sunlight Solar does jobs at up to 10 Central Oregon homes or businesses.

Beyond the April deadline, however, there’s uncertainty about the market for the equipment that the tax credit has covered. Cruz wrote that Energy Trust of Oregon offers incentives for energy-efficient products as well, but added that they’re based on a cost-effectiveness metric that incorporates the Residential Energy Tax Credit. Removing that credit changes affects the incentives for gas fireplaces, water heaters and other items.

Riley said Sunlight Solar Energy has survived as state and federal incentives have ebbed and flowed, but added that the company is bracing for a down year in residential solar sales in 2018, with the expiration of the tax credit.

“We’ll be looking more at the commercial side of the market to keep us going,” Riley said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated the deadline for solar installations. The Bulletin regrets the error.

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