Date of Award

5-2013

Degree Name

Master of City and Regional Planning

Department

City and Regional Planning

Advisor

Adrienne Greve

Abstract

More efficient technologies, state laws as well as environmental, social, and political pressures have all contributed to placing solar acquisition on the agenda for California’s public entities over the last half decade. But a key question for these frequently cash-strapped jurisdictions is how to utilize public dollars and lands, and how to leverage incentives to obtain solar PVs. As an alternative to outright purchase, a promising financing option made available to jurisdictions in recent years is ownership by a third party, usually the solar company, including various forms of Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s) and leasing. Due in part to state and federal incentives available between 2007 and 2012, these third-party provider (TPP) options have been used with increasing frequency; TPP arrangements accounted for “virtually all” larger and mid-size non-residential installations in 2008 (Sherwood 2008). A number of California’s early adopters of third-party financing have installations that have now been operational for several years. Consequently, there is a new opportunity to evaluate third-party financing effectiveness. This thesis reviews solar acquisition practices in California over the last six years, comparing financing options through document analysis and feedback from jurisdiction staff. It finds that directly buying installations has provided a slight advantage in direct savings and overall satisfaction for jurisdictions on average, but success generally depends upon the jurisdiction having secured upfront capital, usually from successfully accessing very low-interest loans or large grants. TPP projects have provided a good alternative to direct purchase, resulting in significant savings and positive reviews from jurisdictions, allowing them to invest in larger installation sizes, and to meet local policy goals or mandates. Additionally, this thesis makes observations about the limitations for installation sizing, impacts of siting on savings, tips for selecting a solar installer, the benefits of cooperative procurement arrangements, and the relative importance of existing and expired monetary incentives available for solar from 2006 through 2020.