POCATELLO — If you have the money to pay your electric bill every month, you can afford to install solar panels on your home or business, according to Solarize Pocatello.
Not only is going solar affordable for consumers, but it’s also a big step toward reducing carbon emissions that contribute to the planet’s changing climate, Solarize Pocatello official Mike Engle said during the first of five informational workshops about solar power held Tuesday night at City Hall.
“Installing solar is a great way to save money,” Engle said. “It also reduces (carbon) emissions and reduces your carbon footprint. Going solar is good on the wallet and good for the planet.”
Sponsored by the Portneuf Resource Council, the local chapter of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Solarize Pocatello is a clean energy campaign focused on inspiring Pocatello homeowners and businesses to install solar panels. The national Solarize campaign started in Portland, Oregon, in 2009 and aims to provide those interested in going solar with a transparent process of lower costs and guaranteed pricing.
And with Idaho Power pledging to move to 100 percent clean energy by 2045, those behind Solarize Pocatello say it’s the Gate City’s time to think green.
Furthermore, homeowners considering solar energy might want to make a decision before the end of the year in order to get a 30 percent federal tax credit, which is set to decrease on Jan. 1, 2020.
The Solar Investment Tax Credit is available for solar panel systems on both residential and commercial properties, but after this year the tax credit drops to 26 percent for projects that begin construction in 2020 and 22 percent for projects that begin in 2021. After 2021, the residential tax credit will drop to zero while the tax credit for businesses to install solar panels will remain.
Engle, a former engineer for ON Semiconductor, says that those who have the cash to invest in solar systems now could see near immediate decreases in their electric bills of up to 20 percent. Further, going solar now will insulate consumers from future increases in what utilities charge for electricity.
“If you go solar now you basically lock in your power rate and avoid utility inflation,” Engle said. “While it is true that Idaho has low-cost electricity, what people aren’t maybe paying close attention to is that there have been four rate hikes since 2013. The cost of electricity in Idaho has gone up 25 percent since then.”
About two dozen people attended the Solarize Pocatello workshop Tuesday night, during which Engle delivered a presentation he calls “Solar 101.” His presentation focuses on explaining the benefits of solar, how solar energy systems work and dispelling myths and misconceptions about solar energy.
The technology behind solar energy systems has evolved significantly since the 1950s, Engle said. Once installed, a solar energy system will produce power, virtually maintenance free and with no human intervention, for a guaranteed 25 years and potentially up to 50 years or longer. The U.S. is home to over 1 million buildings including homes and businesses powered by solar energy and that number is constantly rising, Engle added.
Engle said he would prefer to discuss solar energy system costs with those looking to install solar on an individual basis or during any of the next Solarize Pocatello community outreach workshops, all of which are open to the public. The next workshop is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 15 at the Southeast Idaho Council of Governments building located at 214 E. Center St. in Pocatello.
Currently the average cost for a 6 kilowatt solar power system in the U.S. is about $18,300. Coupled with the 30 percent federal tax credit and a state tax deduction, the price decreases to about $10,800. With a rate of return of about 12 percent, solar energy system owners can break even after about 10 years. People who install solar power systems can also expect to see about a 3 to 4 percent increase in their overall home value, Engle said.
Solarize Pocatello has partnered with the Utah-based company Intermountain Wind and Solar to bring discounted prices and free, no-obligation site assessments to Pocatello community members looking to decrease their utility bills via solar power.
For those who think they cannot afford to purchase a solar power system, Intermountain Wind and Solar offers long-term financing.
Engle said the Solarize Pocatello campaign has a goal to install solar power in 30 residential homes in the city. So far, the campaign has secured contracts to install solar power in eight homes and campaign officials have conducted dozens of site assessments. The last day to sign up for a free site assessment is July 31 and the last day to sign a contract is Sept. 31.
Justin Monk of Intermountain Wind and Solar also spoke at Tuesday night’s workshop about solar power technology and system components. He discussed the differences between the various types of solar panels, the devices that convert the solar power from alternating current to direct current and how net metering works.
Intermountain Wind and Solar uses monocrystalline panels, which work better in high temperatures and shady conditions in comparison to polycrystalline panels. All panels come with a 25-year warranty. For more information about solar power systems, visit solarizepocatello.com/PDFPage:Solar101.
Solar Ambassador and Chairman of Solarize Pocatello Mike Larkin said he has had solar panels installed on his Pocatello home since June 2017. He said his smaller 4.4 kilowatt system works better than he ever expected it would.
“My system still overproduces by about 1,000 kilowatts per year over the power we use,” Larkin said. “The system will virtually produce twice of what we are using in the summer and produces a little bit more than what we are using in the winter.”
Larkin added, “I did it to reduce my carbon footprint and help the environment. But now I realize that it was a good investment.”