Winneshiek Energy District

Solar Solar!

Are you thinking about solar photovoltaics for your home, farm, or business? Hearing more people talking, heard about rebates and other incentives, and wondering"should I be considering this?"

YES, you SHOULD be thinking about it. Solar photovoltaic (for generating electricity) used to be just for "early adopters", but not anymore. It's a mature technology that has come down in price so fast in the past 4 years that as an investment it can provide better returns than the stock market - even if you need a loan to finance it.

Learn about solar: links on the basics of solar PV systems if you feel like digging in

Solar Basics: some references to California but a good primer on residential systems (applicable to commercial/agricultural too)

The Department of Energy has some very good articles: start with Planning a Home Solar Electric System and follow the links for more

If you're a glutton for online research, the Florida Solar Energy Center has plenty more resources

Who ya gonna call? Click HERE for solar installers both local and non-local with contact information and links to web sites

Are there financial incentives? YOU BET, we explain them here and provide relevant links.

The bottom line? OK, a quick and dirty why 2013 is a good time to consider solar PV, and some final tips

In 2008, a residential 5KW (kilowatt)  system probably cost $8/W installed ($8,000/KW), or $40,000. A 30% federal tax credit could help bring this down to $32K, and with electricity at about 10 cents/kWh, simple payback was roughly 50 years, give or take.

Now in 2014 we're looking at installed costs of just over $4/W installed for that same 5KW system, or $20,000 installed. We have a 15% Iowa tax credit now on top of the federal 30%. With higher electricity costs (and likely to continue rising), many if not most Winneshiek County households, farms, and businesses could see simple payback times of near or well under 10 years. Quality panels can easily produce for well over 30 years.

Yes it is still an investment, but in most cases a good one relative to other options, and don't forget: clean energy is also an investment in a better future. A few thoughts of more things to consider:

  • Financing: at this point the solar photovoltaics are still a major investment. It's also a sound investment in a solid asset with close to guaranteed return, and as such should be eligible for financing on good terms. Decorah Bank and Trust is currently offering energy efficiency/renewable energy loans specifically for projects such as this.
  • Currently the only solar PV option for most of us is to pay for and own our system, but we're working toward changing that. A community solar field could potentially allow us all to buy shares or actual generating capacity, have the generation credited to our utility bill, but also have benefits such as economy of scale, convenience of a common location, transferability of the investment, and more. Another model would allow you to contract with a solar business that could build AND OWN a PV system at your location, so instead of you investing in a major system, you just purchase the power generated the same as you purchase power from a utility. Neither of these options are available through Iowa utilities at the moment but we're hoping that will change.
  • Shade-Site-Shade: for on-site solar PV, you need a relatively shade-free (especially to the south) place to put it, whether "ground mount" or "roof mount". You probably know whether you have this, but the Beacon assessors site can provide you with good aerial imagery, as can sites such as Bing and Google Earth. A good solar site assessment and consultation by the Energy District will review all this and much more.
  • A solar PV array on your building or property is somewhat of a fixed asset - it can be moved but is best left in place for quite some time. This means that if you sell, you'll want that investment reflected in the valuation of your property. This is growing area of interest and learning within the real estate community, and if you plan to sell in the near future you may want to have some discussions with appraisers, realtors, and others.
  • EFFICIENCY FIRST - it doesn't make much sense to install an 8KW system for $32,000 (just an example) if you could first reduce your electrical usage/demand by investing, say, $5,000, and then only need to build a 5KW system for $20,000. Worth thinking about! Contact us for more information.