Homeowner’s guide to going solar with CPS Energy

Updated

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CPS Energy is a municipal utility and natural gas provider that services the San Antonio area. Image source: CPS Energy

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that’s especially true in San Antonio. But bigger isn’t always better: aside from being the Lone Star State’s second largest city, it’s also the land of high electricity bills. 

San Antonio residents pay an average of $140 per month on their electricity bills, which is higher than the state's average bill of $130, and much higher than the national average of $117 per month. And these bills are about to be supersized, thanks to recent rate increases approved by the San Antonio City Council. 

There is a way that San Antonio homeowners can reduce their electricity bills - installing solar panels. But, how much can homeowners really save when the city’s municipal utility, CPS Energy, offers low solar buyback rates? And can going solar even be a worthwhile investment? Let’s find out.

Calculate your monthly savings by installing solar panels on your specific home
 

Going solar with CPS Energy at a glance:

  • CPS Energy’s net billing program credits solar energy at the full-retail rate ($0.12 per kWh), only up to the amount of your home’s monthly energy usage.
  • Any excess energy you send to the grid above your monthly usage is credited at $0.02 per kWh.
  • Homeowners can receive a $2,500 rebate from CPS Energy when they install a qualified solar panel system.
  • CPS Energy’s solar interconnection process can take as little as 2 weeks, and as long as 3 months.
  • Despite having a low buyback rate, San Antonio homeowners can still save hundreds on their monthly electric bills under CPS Energy’s net billing program.

Does CPS Energy have a solar buyback program? 

Yes, CPS Energy offers a buyback program called “net billing” for their residential customers who install solar panels. 

Sometimes, your solar panels might produce more electricity than your home uses. When this happens, the excess energy is sent to the grid, and CPS pays you for that extra electricity in the form of a credit on your electricity bill. But, that credit is only worth a fraction of the retail rate of electricity. 

So, while CPS is charging you $0.12 per kWh of electricity you take from the grid, they’re only going to pay you about $0.02 per kWh of excess solar energy you send to it.

How much money can you save by going solar with CPS Energy? 

You can save quite a bit of money on your CPS Energy bill by switching to solar, despite them offering a low solar buyback rate. Under CPS’s net billing program, electricity produced by your solar panels will cover the cost of electricity you use in your home. Let us explain.

Let’s say during the month of March your home used 1,200 kWh of electricity, worth about $140. During the same month, your solar panels produced 1,300 kWh of solar energy. Since your solar panels produced more electricity than your home used, your entire electricity costs for the month of March would be covered. That’s $140 you get to keep in your pocket! 

Plus, you have 100 extra kilowatt-hours of solar that you sent to the grid, giving you a credit of about $2.00 to offset some of the costs of your electricity bill in April. This might not seem like much, but over the 25-year lifetime of the solar panels, this system would rack up over $30,000 in solar savings.  

Of course, your actual savings will depend on the system you install, how much energy you use, and the characteristics of your roof. Our solar calculator will give you a better idea of your CPS solar savings based on your unique scenario.

Size matters: Having a solar system that produces a ton of excess electricity throughout the year will cost a lot to install and will only save you a few extra bucks. Instead, your solar installer may design a system that covers between 90% and 95% of your yearly energy costs to minimize how much excess energy you send to the grid, while still eliminating a majority of your electric bills.

Does CPS Energy have any solar incentives or rebates? 

Yes, CPS Energy does offer a solar rebate program! Residential solar projects qualify for a $2,500 rebate for a solar installation that meets the following criteria:

  • Is over 1 kW in size
  • Is installed on the most southern-facing roof (systems on northern roof faces do not qualify)
  • Is installed by a local CPS Energy-registered solar contractor that provides a minimum 5-year contractor’s warranty

Even if you choose a non-local solar installer you can still get a rebate from CPS. But instead of getting $2,500, you’ll only get $1,875. You can find out if a solar installer is considered local or non-local here

You can get an additional $500 if you choose to install solar panels that are manufactured locally. CPS doesn’t explicitly list any brands that are considered ‘locally made’, but Mission Solar Energy manufactures their panels in the city of San Antonio, so it’s likely that using Mission equipment will qualify you for the additional rebate. 

Full eligibility requirements for the CPS Energy solar rebate program can be found here. But, these incentives aren’t going to be around forever. In fact, the expiration date could be as soon as July 2022. The utility board is working on revamping the company’s energy efficiency and conservation programs, and it seems like solar rebates have been cut from the mix.

If you’re considering going solar, you might want to do it sooner rather than later to make sure you can take advantage of the incentive. 

Do you need a solar battery when going solar with CPS Energy? 

We’re going to be honest with you, you don’t need to install a battery if you’re going solar, even though CPS Energy has such a low solar buyback rate. Solar batteries are going to be best for homeowners who want to have access to reliable backup power during grid outages, like the ones that have been sweeping Texas during winter storms. 

With that said, installing a solar battery will save you more money on your monthly electricity bill, because your excess energy will be stored for you to use later. This means you’ll get the full-retail value out of your excess energy, instead of sending it back to the grid and only getting $0.02 per kWh. 

But, solar batteries come with serious upfront costs - usually $10,000 or higher. So sure, you’re saving a little bit more each month, but those savings probably won’t recoup the costs to install the battery as quickly as you want. 

To put it into perspective, a 13 kW solar system without a battery would provide you with around $40,000 in lifetime savings, with those savings covering the cost of the panels after about 11 and a half years. The same system paired with a 15 kWh Generac PWRCell battery, for example, would only provide about $28,300 in savings, and would extend the payback period to almost 16 years. 

The easiest way to see how installing a solar battery will impact your solar savings is by using our solar panel cost and savings calculator, which lets you choose from a variety of battery options.

Steps to going solar with CPS Energy 

Getting solar panels up and installed on your roof is probably the quickest and easiest part of installing solar. There’s a decent amount of paperwork, permitting, and inspections required by CPS Energy before your panels can start generating electricity. The total process can take anywhere from 2 to 10 weeks, with the actual installation taking no more than 5 days. 

The good news is most of the work is handled by your solar installer, so it won’t be much of a headache for you. Here’s a breakdown of the steps that need to be taken in order for your solar panels to operate with CPS Energy. 

1. Finding a solar installer 

Perhaps the most important part to going solar with CPS Energy is finding the right solar installer. Like we said earlier, only certain solar installers will qualify for the full solar rebate, so you’ll want to consider one of those companies to help you save the most on your solar system. 

2. Application submittal 

CPS Energy requires an interconnection agreement to be submitted by either the homeowner or contractor, along with additional technical information like a detailed one-line diagram of the proposed system, a site plan, and manufacturer specifications for equipment. 

During the review process, CPS may find that the grid may need upgrades in order to support the solar system. If this is the case, there may be some additional costs the homeowner needs to take on, depending on the scope of the upgrades needed. 

3. Solar installation 

The solar installation may begin once CPS approves the interconnection agreement. System installation typically takes between 2 and 5 days to complete. 

4. Inspection 

Before the solar system can be turned on, CPS Energy will send someone to inspect the site to confirm the system complies with the company’s technical and safety requirements. 

5. Permission to operate 

If the solar installation passes inspection, it’s ready to be turned on and can start generating clean, renewable energy! 

Should you go solar with CPS Energy?

Going solar as a CPS Energy customer can be worth it if you do it right. You and your solar installer will have to consider your energy usage, the size of your system, and if battery storage makes sense for your specific needs. 

If you want to keep your upfront costs and your solar payback period low, you might want to install a solar system that covers 95% of your electricity cost instead of 100%. If you’re willing to pay a little bit more for your installation and want access to backup power, then going with a battery could work for you. 

You could also consider making energy efficiency upgrades to your home, which can help lower your energy bills even further. 

Either way, installing solar panels can prevent you from having high electricity bills, and instead, give you Texas-sized savings. To start your solar journey, check out our solar panel savings calculator and find out how much solar can save you. 

See how much local companies are charging for solar installations in your area
 - Author of Solar Reviews

Catherine Lane

SolarReviews Blog Author

Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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