News from the Winneshiek Solar Fair

Briana Burke, Logistics Coordinator, Green Iowa AmeriCorps

What can save you money, is good for the environment, creates local jobs, and is the future of energy? Solar panels! While that riddle isn’t too hard to figure out, the process of getting solar panels installed on your home can feel like an overwhelming maze.

This past Saturday, over 150 people from the tri-state area took the first steps through the maze towards solar in their homes and attended the Winneshiek Energy District’s solar fair. Five local solar panel contractors and financiers were available to provide information on their services, the Green Iowa AmeriCorps team took sign-ups for home energy efficiency assessments, and the Winneshiek Energy District’s Andy Johnson and Joel Zook presented solar workshops throughout the day on Solar 101, Incentives and Benefits, and Solar Q&A.

Logistics of Solar- First Step

“The first thing to do before looking into solar is to get a home energy efficiency assessment,” Joel outlined in his Solar 101 workshop. “The less energy a home uses, the easier and cheaper it is to power with solar.”

The Winneshiek Energy District hosts a Green Iowa Americorps team who performs home energy assessments. These assessments are ideal if someone is looking into solar, or if they are simply looking to reduce their electric and utility bills. They serve 6 counties in NE Iowa, and provide services free for disabled, veterans, low to moderate income, and individuals 65 years and older. Once a home is efficient, contact a contractor to do a home evaluation or Joel Zook from the Winneshiek Energy District. These folks can make figuring out costs and logistics easier, and help guide on how many panels to get and where to put them.

Finances of Solar

After logistics of panels is the finance of panels. Andy Johnson of the Winneshiek Energy District is urging anyone who is interested in panels to get them this year. Why? The cost of solar panels has decreased by about 70% per kilowatt-hour since 2010, and more importantly, the current federal and Iowa tax credits cover 45% of the cost for panels. These tax credits start to go away after 2019, increasing the overall cost of panels.

Darlene Emery shared her experience with solar panels:  “I love my panels! We have had them for three years now, and have only paid $20 in electric bills that entire time. Massman helped us get the right amount of panels, and they’ve worked great!”

Most homes can expect the solar panels to pay for themselves in 7 years, during which time, Decorah Bank and Trust helps to make solar financing options affordable for individuals. “We work with people to try and make things as affordable as possible, some want to pay more upfront, and some people want smaller monthly payments. Each situation is unique so we can’t guarantee, but we try to work out loan payments that are equivalent to what you had been paying for electricity so that it ends up being a net zero payment monthly for individuals after their panels are up and running.” Joe Grimstad from Decorah Bank and Trust shared about their solar financing loans.

Some in attendance at the fair came because they were interested in learning more about House Bill 669 which was drafted by MidAmerican Energy, and is aimed at adding unfair charges to solar owners who overproduce, killing net metering. Jim Wolf, a board member of the Howard County Energy District, said this was an important reason people came to be informed on the issue and to get talking points. Net metering is what allows solar-powered homes to be reimbursed for the excess energy that they produce and feed back to the grid. Killing net 3metering would be a devastating blow to the solar industry in Iowa, and limit Iowan’s freedom to produce energy. To learn more about HB185, check out the Winneshiek Energy District’s website.

Benefits of Solar

“Investing in solar in almost all situations is a lucrative investment with a low-risk return. This year, federal and Iowa tax credits pay for 45% of the purchase, and the remaining amount can be paid through financing options that are not a financial burden to the household” Joe Grimstad shared when asked about how affordable solar is. It is a big investment, but more than pays for itself in electricity bills, and environmental benefits.

“We need to take care of the earth for our kids and grandkids,” said Jim Osterhaus from the Clayton County Energy District when asked why he uses renewable energy and drives an electric vehicle. Jackie and Byron Reeves from Wisconsin said: “We’re interested in solar because we’re concerned about the environment.” Solar is green by saving you money and building a better future for our kids.

Interested in Solar?

“We were impressed with the event, lots of people showed up and great, practical information was presented by contractors and Andy and Joel about incentives, “ Said Jim W. and Brett D. from the Howard County Energy District.

 Larry Grimstad says, “Money spent on solar panels and our future is really important and this year may be the best time to install solar at your place because government incentives start going away after this year.”

If you are ready to join those in Winneshiek County who are already benefiting from solar panels on their homes, contact the Winneshiek Energy District with questions at 563-382-4207 (live in Howard or Clayton County? Contact your local energy district with questions!) and get in contact with either Andy Johnson or Joel Zook. Or, reach one of the contractors who attended our solar fair:

Decorah Electric: (563)-382-9473
Blake Electric: (563)-568-3686
Decorah Bank: (563)-382-9661
Tom Massman: (563)-382-5712
Perry Novak: (563)-382-2179

Solar panels are great, and do you know what else is awesome? Electric Vehicles! Join the Winneshiek Energy District again at the Fairgrounds on June 8 for the second annual Electric Vehicle Fest(EV)al. Learn more about this event at


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