Rebates for solar panels prompted more people than ever to install them in their homes last year. Austin Energy says it issued 463 rebates in fiscal 2012. That was the highest number ever, breaking the previous record by 40 percent.
The increase came even though Austin Energy decreased the amount of the rebate its lowest ever in June: $2 per watt.
"Austin Energy has now provided rebates for more than 1,900 residential installations since the Solar Rebate Program began in 2004," the public utility said in a news release, adding that the number of local solar installation companies has grown from four to more than 40.
For some of those businesses, the incentives have been a powerful draw for customers. Shey Sabripour started the solar installation company Altumaxis Technologies in 2010, after retiring as an engineer at Lockheed Martin. He says his sales doubled in 2012.
"It feels great," Sabripour says. "To me as an entrepreneur and someone who started with a small personal investment, and having initially worked out of Starbucks, and then having an office, and then going from one person to having six to ten people work for you, out of nothing, is the greatest satisfaction.”
Sabripour says he relies on Austin Community College's renewable energy program to provide a steady crop of new employees.
Austin Energy also began receiving electricity last year from a 30-megawatt solar project in Webberville. That means the public utility now receives more than a quarter of its power generation from renewable energy.