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Students from Florida and Cocodrilo engage in environmental projects during an Ocean Doctor-led exchange.

Columbus' ships were leaking, their provisions spoiling. It was clear that they would have to turn back. Yet, anchored off Cuba's southwestern coast near a large, mountainous pine-covered island during his second voyage, Columbus had seen enough. He was convinced Cuba was part of Asia and that return to Spain by land would be possible from the main Cuban island. He ordered each member of the crew sign an affidavit testifying to this, and their signature bound them to have their tongue cut out should they ever contradict their signed statement.

The next day, June 13, 1494, they landed on the nearby island. Columbus named it Evangelista. Over the centuries since, it bore the names Isla de Cotorras (Isle of Parrots), Isla de Tesoros (Treasure Island), Isla de Pinos (Isle of Pines), and finally, Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). While Cuba claimed its sovereignty from Spain in 1898, the fate of the Isle of Pines would not be settled until more than 25 years when it officially became part of Cuba, though by then most of it was controlled by U.S. interests.

Waves break along Isle of Youth's southern coast.David Guggenheim

The 80,000 residents of the island often feel invisible, forgotten and disconnected from the rest of Cuba, an "island within an island." Dwarfed by the massive main island of Cuba, the world is barely aware of its very existence, despite the fact that it is the seventh largest island in the Caribbean, larger than St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Bonaire, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, Aruba, St. Barts, Saba, Terre-de-Haut, Isla Mujeres and Key West combined. The island has struggled for decades, with limited economic opportunities for its residents, mostly in agriculture and fishing. It has long since been forgotten as an international tourist destination.

Location of the community of Cocodrilo on the southern tip of Cuba's Isle of Youth.

The Cuban government has repeatedly tried to infuse life into the island. In 1978, Fidel Castro changed the name to Isle of Youth as part of an effort to bring new opportunity and meaning to the island. An initiative was launched to build a world-class international network of schools on the island, attracting students from Africa, Asia and beyond. Thirty years later, in 2008, Hurricane Gustav, with sustained winds of 155 mph, decimated the island, laying to waste the international schools and that chapter of the island's struggle.

In 2015, Ocean Doctor led an expedition of Cuban and American scientists to visit the protected waters of the Isle of Youth; most of the southern half of the island is protected, part of Cuba's massive system of protected areas. Over our 16 years of working in Cuba, we have found the country as a beacon of hope, where many coral reef ecosystems thrive in sharp contrast to the dead and dying corals elsewhere in the Caribbean.

It is estimated that 50 percent of the coral cover in the Caribbean has vanished since 1970. As we dove among the coral reefs in the Punta Frances protected area, we indeed found some of Cuba's treasured coral reefs, gleaming and healthy. But we also found reefs in stress—some bleached white, some covered in slimy green algae, the telltale signs of a reef beginning to die.

Our Cuban colleagues were surprised. This was something new that they hadn't seen just two to three years earlier. We saw no sharks, no groupers and virtually no large, predatory fish, a sure sign of overfishing which contributes to a reef's decline. Although on paper the area is protected—it has the same level of protection as Cuba's better-known Gardens of the Queen—there is virtually no enforcement and the area is fished illegally.

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Our captain watched with some consternation as an unidentified vessel, gray with no markings, headed straight toward our vessel, anchored more than 50 miles off Cuba's southern coast. Others in the crew speculated nervously about the approaching boat, never previously seen in these parts. The boat pulled alongside and two imposing figures boarded, both in olive military uniforms. A mustachioed representative of the Ministry of Interior stood beside his taller colleague whose uniform, like the boat that carried him, bore no markings at all. A sidearm hung imposingly from his belt. He turned to the captain and requested to meet with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. makes a journal entry aboard ship during The Explorers Club's expedition to document unexplored waters off southern Cuba in 2014.David E. Guggenheim

At that moment, Kennedy—a leading environmental activist, president of Waterkeeper Alliance and son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy—was 90 feet below the surface with the rest of our group, observing a dozen or so Caribbean reef sharks tracing mesmerizing circles about us. We were carrying the flag of The Explorers Club, visiting and documenting previously unexplored coral reef ecosystems in Cuba's southern waters.

After returning to the boat, the mission of our mysterious guests was revealed. We had been visited by a representative of former Cuban president Fidel Castro's personal guard who had a letter from the Comandante for Kennedy. Mission complete, they posed for a quick photo and departed on the 50-mile journey back to shore and the six-hour drive back to Havana. They had traveled an incredible distance to find us and hand-deliver a letter. We were obviously quite curious as to its contents.

Our captain, Arjel, and the two soldiers that delivered the letter from El Comandante to our vessel.David E. Guggenheim

A few days earlier, Kennedy, Jr. and his family had visited with Castro, who welcomed them warmly. Nearly 52 years prior, Robert Kennedy, serving as U.S. Attorney General, and his brother, President John F. Kennedy, were within a whisker of war with Cuba and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The quiet Castro-Kennedy, Jr. meeting was historical. Relations between Cuba and the U.S. were warming, though the dramatic announcement of normalization of diplomatic relations would not occur for another six months.

Kennedy, Jr. shared the letter with me, a polite set of Castro's reflections on the meeting and kind words for Kennedy and his family. What I found especially significant in the letter was his discussion about oceans:

"For many years I was a passionate spearfisherman without the proper awareness of the beauty and value of coral reefs. Through this I knew some of the experiences of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who in such a way fell in love with the sea that ended up becoming one of the most famous defenders of the life and the value of the seas. Today it is known that the sea is one of the largest and varied sources of protein foods. These factors helped me understand the importance of the services you have rendered to the people of the United States and other nations of the world in their struggle to protect the environment."

The influence of Cousteau on Castro has been a recurring theme I have heard from Cuban colleagues during my many years working in Cuba. Castro read and was influenced by Cousteau's books and, in 1985 when Cousteau visited the island to make a documentary, the two finally met and shared a special friendship. Castro granted Cousteau with rare privilege during his visits. Cousteau and his team became the first non-Cubans to pass through the gate of the U.S. Navy's Guantanamo Bay installation since 1962. He is reported to have freed dozens of political prisoners at Cousteau's request. And Castro spent a great deal of time with Cousteau, dining with him aboard his vessel, Calypso.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau's Vessel, Calypso, in Havana Bay (1985)Cousteau Society

In the late nineties, aboard another research vessel visiting from the U.S., Castro reflected on his friendship with Cousteau and said, "You know, he loved exploring Cuban waters because of our protection." In the Cousteau documentary, Cuba: Waters of Destiny, Cousteau is clearly taken with what he observes in Cuba: "My first dive in the waters of Cuba serves as a moment of truth…around me, large fish among flourishing coral, a reef more rich than any I have seen in years," a stunning reminder that even 30 years ago, the unraveling of coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean was well underway. Today it is estimated that the Caribbean has lost half of its coral cover. Spared in part by a history that has caused Cuba to develop profoundly differently than the rest of the Caribbean, coupled with world-class environmental laws, many of Cuba's coral reef ecosystems have been spared the demise observed throughout the Caribbean.

Before allowing the Calypso to depart Cuba's waters, Castro challenged Cousteau, asking him why he didn't have a Cuban scientist aboard. Consequently, Cousteau later welcomed Dr. Gaspar Gonzalez Sansón, former vice director of the University of Havana's Center for Marine Research, to serve as a visiting scientist aboard Calypso in New Zealand. Years later, Dr. Gonzalez would become our co-principal investigator for a decade of expeditions off Cuba's northwestern coast and regaled us with hilarious tales of a Cuban among Frenchmen aboard Calypso.

President Fidel Castro and Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau in a playful exchange at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

In July 1997, Cuba enacted Law 81, the Law of the Environment, a truly impressive set of laws and regulations meant to reverse the environmental damage from prior decades and chart a path of sustainability. Within a decade, Cuba banned the destructive fishing practice of bottom trawling from its waters. Today, Cuba has nearly met its goal of protecting 25 percent of its marine waters in marine protected areas, one of the largest percentages in the world. (In comparison, the world average is currently 2-3 percent). Many Cubans attribute Law 81 and Cuba's ongoing commitment to the environment to Castro's environmental ethic, which the Comandante, in part, attributes to Cousteau.

With the passing of Castro and a possible retreat on Cuba relations by an incoming Trump Administration, there is a growing uneasiness about Cuba's uncertain future. Facing profound economic need and unprecedented growth pressure, especially in response to plans more than triple tourism by 2030, Cuba will be put to the test in the months and years ahead. For now, Cuba remains a green, unspoiled jewel in the Caribbean. It is a place where policy is still informed by science and fact, and decisions governed by its laws.

By 2014, it had been some time since Castro had last donned a mask and personally explored Cuba's waters, but it was clear that his passion and curiosity for the sea was as strong as ever. In his letter, Castro made a simple but urgent request of Kennedy, Jr: "Today, I beg you, if you have a few minutes, tell me about the general impression of what you have seen on the bottom..." Several weeks later, Kennedy complied and assured the Comandante that for now, Cuba's marine ecosystems were still healthy and spectacular.

zstockphotos / iStock / Getty Images

With well over one million solar installations throughout the state, California has long been a leader in the U.S. solar industry. Recent legislation mandating that all new homes in the state must be built with solar panels likely leaves residents wondering about the cost of solar panels in California.

With ample sunshine, unnaturally high energy costs, ambitious climate goals and progressive leadership, California is ripe with solar potential. The preexisting availability of local solar providers in California allows solar customers the valuable opportunity to gather a large number of competing quotes, sometimes generating several thousand dollars worth of savings in the process.

You can start getting free, no-obligation quotes from top solar companies in your area by filling out the form below.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in California?

As of 2021, our market research and data from top brands shows the average cost of solar panels in California is around $2.73 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $10,101 after the federal solar tax credit is applied.

Here's how that price looks when applied to other system sizes:

Size of Solar Panel SystemCalifornia Solar Panel CostCost After Federal Tax Credit
5kW$13,650$10,101
6kW$16,380$12,121
7kW$19,110$14,141
8kW$21,840$16,162
9kW$24,570$18,182
10kW$27,300$20,202

It may surprise some readers that the cost of solar in California isn't as low as in many other states, but keep in mind that the real value of solar comes relative to the price of energy in the state (and California's is the highest in the country). All in all, solar energy provides excellent value to California residents.

Knowing the average solar panel cost in California is $2.73 per watt, a savvy solar customer can compare quotes against this figure to ensure they receive the best value possible. You may find that popular national brands don't have the lowest prices.

What Determines Solar Panel Prices?

The cost of solar panel installations in California largely depends on a homeowner's location and energy needs. In most cases, areas with higher local electricity rates offer more value from solar panels. Here are other factors that influence installation costs.

Solar Equipment Costs

Similar to most modern technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may prefer a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and an electric vehicle charger.

Solar Financing

The overall cost of solar depends significantly on whether a customer chooses to finance or purchase their system in cash. Paying upfront provides the best return on investment and fastest solar panel payback period, as there are no fees or interest charges associated with it.

The two most common solar financing options include taking out a loan and leasing solar panels. If paying with a solar loan, be careful of high interest rates and early repayment penalties and other fees. Homeowners who lease their panels or sign power purchase agreements (PPAs) enjoy little to no upfront costs, but solar leases provide the least amount of overall value.

Solar Installation Costs

With nearly 2,500 solar companies throughout California, prices can range significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers looking to get a leg up on their competition may offer lower prices to undercut the biggest names in the industry.

Solar Panel Cost After Incentives, Rebates and Tax Credits

California's progressive leadership has done good work in spurring investment in renewable energy. All homeowners are eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and the state offers several incentive programs and solar rebates aimed at further increasing access to reliable, affordable solar panels. However, given the state's ambitious climate targets and the energy burden on most of its population, it could probably do more.

Let's take a closer look at the solar incentives available to California residents.

Federal Solar Tax Credit

All California residents are eligible for the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for installing PV solar panels and any other eligible solar equipment. Any reputable solar installer will assist in the process of claiming the ITC on your federal tax returns. Claiming the ITC deducts 26% of the total cost of your solar installation from the taxes you owe.

To be eligible for the solar tax credit, homeowners must own the solar energy system, either having paid for it in cash or by taking out a solar loan. Homeowners who lease solar panels are not eligible to claim the ITC.

California Net Metering Programs

Net energy metering (NEM), or net metering, allows customers to feed the surplus energy generated by their solar panels back to their local power grid in exchange for energy credits from their utility company. As most solar energy systems generate more energy than can be used during the day, this incentive provides homeowners additional savings on their electricity bills and lowers the demand for grid-supplied electricity in the region.

California currently offers a statewide net metering incentive for residents generating electricity with solar panels. Exact credit values will vary based on your utility company.

California Solar Tax Incentives and Rebate Programs

There are also a handful of California solar incentives to help lower the cost of solar for residents. Some of these include rebates, loans and property tax exemptions. Though any quality solar company will be knowledgeable about the local incentives in your area, it's always worth doing some independent research. We recommend using the DSIRE solar incentive database to find money-saving opportunities in your area.

FAQ: Average Cost of Solar Panels in California

Is it worth going solar in California?

One of the sunniest climates in the country makes California one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar power. The ample sunshine, generous net metering policies and pre-existing availability of solar installers provide a great deal of value for solar customers in California.

How much does it cost to install solar panels in California?

As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in California is $2.73 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $10,100 after the solar tax credit. Heavy investment in renewable energy has lowered the cost of solar in the state significantly, and this cost offers great value relative to high local energy prices. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for free estimates.

Do solar panels increase home value in California?

Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the areas in California where solar panels increase home value the most correspond with the areas that have the most solar-friendly policies. It's worth noting that even if your home's value increases, California has laws in place to ensure your property taxes don't rise as the result of a solar installation.

How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500-square-foot house?

Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is a more important factor in determining solar panel cost in California. The higher the energy costs in your home, the greater your cost of solar will be.

Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.

David Guggenheim
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