Rebates, Tax Credits, and Other Incentives for Installing Solar Energy Systems
Last updated December 2021
Here are the tax credits and other incentives we could identify in December 2021 for the Chicago area. Keep in mind that at that time Congress was considering legislation that would improve the federal tax credit for residential solar projects. Check with your utility company and dsireusa.org for up-to-date info.
Note that if you lease, rather than buy, incentives usually go to the leasing company that installs and owns the panels on your roof, not you.
Federal tax credit: Uncle Sam will reimburse you 26 percent of what you paid for panels, equipment, storage devices, installation, and permits. The current credit is in place through 2022; in 2023, the credit is scheduled to decline to 22 percent, and then in 2024 it disappears for residential solar projects, if the program isn’t renewed.
Net metering: If your system produces electricity that you don’t use, it’s pushed onto the grid, your meter spins in reverse, and your utility gives you a credit for it. The amount of the credit is pegged to the same retail price you pay and rolls forward to the next month. But if you are signed up on a time-of-use rate plan, you’ll get charged higher rates when you buy during peak times, but solar-energy producers often get paid lower non-peak rates when they sell.
Even if you produce a lot more electricity than you use, you won’t get rich as a solar-electricity generator. ComEd limits generating capacity to no more than 110 percent of the electricity you used in the previous 12 months, and any credits you build up over a year expire at the end of your annual billing cycle.
Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs): In September, the state renewed the Illinois Shines program, which rewards you for electricity produced by solar energy systems. The program estimates the number of kWh your system will produce in its first 15 years, pays that to the installer, and the installer manages the SRECs over that period and passes on a percentage of the incentive to its customers in the form of a discount. The certificates are expected to pay almost $65 per 1,000 kWh; a 6kW system would generate an estimated 114 SRECs over 15 years—or a total rebate of more than $7,300.
You’ll have to work out with your installer how much it will pay you. Two companies our undercover shoppers contacted told us they’d pass on 100 percent of the SREC discount if we bought, rather than leased, the system from them, but the math in another company’s proposal indicated we’d get only 68 percent. Of course, the more you get the better, so read the state-required disclosure statements that explain the expected value to compare proposals and negotiate a better deal, if needed.
Low-income program: The Illinois Solar For All program for low-income homeowners and renters is still accepting new applications. In December 2021 the state was working on updating the program rules and increasing funding.
Property tax exemption: It’s not a straight exemption in Illinois, but once you report the installation of your system to the local assessor’s office it will value it at an amount no greater than the dollar figure it would assign to a conventional HVAC system, and then exempt that increased amount from property taxes.