Here Comes the Sun:
For better or worse, it’s hard to avoid the summer heat in Minnesota right now. While Minnesota may not seem like a particularly sunny state, we rank at #25 in terms of annual sun, with 2700 hours of sunlight a year. As the sun blazes down, more and more Minnesotans are taking advantage of solar energy options. Below are four amazing ways of using the sun’s energy to power your home or business.
1. Solar Panels
For many homeowners, solar panels can be a great investment. Not only could a typical solar panel installation save thousands of dollars in energy bills, it can increase property values by $15,000! In Minnesota, the average cost of installation comes to $13,860 after the 30% tax credit. Between the property values and energy savings, solar panels are likely to pay for themselves after about 7 years. Banks, credit unions, and even manufacturers offer loans which can help offset the high up-front cost.
Still, solar panels might not be ideal for all roofs. To see if solar panels might work for your roof, use Google’s nifty online calculator, Project Sunroof. Project Sunroof assesses the shade, square footage, and roof type to see how much money you might save over 20 years. In most cases, buying solar panels is the best way of maximizing your value for solar energy. Decide your roof isn’t ready for panels? Skip to option #3.
2. Solar Panel Leases
Do you want solar panels, but still think the price is a bit steep? Solar leasing is a great way of getting the energy savings while avoiding the high purchase price. Some solar panel providers offer plans in which they come to your home, install, and maintain ownership rights to solar panels – while you get the electricity produced. This means that you don’t have to pay for the high costs of the panels, but you get the benefits of the energy savings. If you do this, make sure to check the contract carefully to verify who’s responsible for the upkeep and repair to the panels or roof. It’s important to make sure you understand the liability if something goes wrong. Leasing solar panels are a great way to help the environment and reduce your energy bills without the cost and hassle of maintaining the solar system.
3. Community Solar Gardens
Even if you don’t want panels on your roof, you can still use solar energy! Community solar options are a great way of providing everyone access to solar energy. A solar garden is a large array of solar grids build by a co-op or independent contractor, and connected to the power company’s grid. By building a co-operative solar installation, the environmental and energy savings can be shared among more people. In 2018, Minnesota hopes to add at least 69 new community solar gardens. This system is rapidly making Minnesota one of best solar states. However, community solar gardens often require subscriptions of 20-25 years. To weigh the pros and cons of a solar gardens subscription, check out these tips from the Minnesota Department of Commerce. If this option doesn’t seem right for you, check out option #4.
4. Renewable Connect
Renewable Connect is a solar solution anyone can use – businesses, homeowners, and renters alike! This is an opt-in program offered by Xcel, letting subscribers get their energy from a blend of solar and wind energy. Unlike solar panel lease or installation, this program tends to cost you more money – although only about $5 more a month. On the plus side, it offers month-to-month, 5, or 10-year terms, making the commitment shorter compared to solar gardens. It also offers ‘renewable energy certificates’ (RECs) for businesses seeking sustainability goals. This program is for people who are willing to pay a little extra in order to use renewable energy, but aren’t able to install solar panels on their roof. The Renewable Connect program is currently at capacity, but it’s possible to get on their waitlist here. (Minneapolis readers, sorry – at the moment, it doesn’t appear that CenterPoint Energy has a similar program.)
It might surprise you to know that almost anyone in Minnesota can choose solar energy. This is what makes Minnesota is a rising solar star: we have multiple ways to harness the power of the sun. When the sun beats down this summer, turn the tables and use it to run your A/C.
About the Author:
As an AmeriCorps VISTA serving for a year with Neighborworks, I hope to increase Neighborworks’ capacity to serve the community by understanding and responding to the customer experience. Although my background is in psychology and mental health, I’ve come to the area of community development because I’m excited about broader-scale social change. I am also an advocate of sustainability, both for business and in everyday life. In my free time I enjoy writing and I am an enthusiastic pianist.