How to Use the Solar Calculator
The best way to learn about local rebates, your home’s energy potential, and your eventual return on investment is to use our ModSun Solar Cost Calculator (see above). Enter your home address in the box, then click Check My Roof. You’ll get an instant picture of your roof’s productivity, your average energy expenses, and installation costs in your area—whether you decide to buy or loan. We’ll also provide system size recommendations and information about rebates and incentives you may be eligible for. Just select More Info under each purchasing strategy to learn more, and then connect with a solar pro.
Solar Power in Montana
Interest in solar power in Big Sky Country is very hot indeed. With well over 100 photovoltaic projects applied for just in the beginning half of 2015 alone, Montana’s future is set to be powered by the sun. Between 2010 and 2015, the price of panels dropped by 50 percent throughout the state, according to the Montana Renewable Energy Association. In Montana, solar power is beginning to become competitive with other traditional sources of energy.
However, if you’re thinking of purchasing solar panels for your Montana home, you’ll want to act soon. The soaring interest in solar is causing lawmakers and utilities to reconsider options like net metering, a popular incentive that pays homeowners for every kilowatt of energy they return to the grid. That means if you want to take advantage of this payment system, you’ll want to get in now, while incentives are still widely available. So, to get you started, here’s a guide to purchasing, installing, and paying for a new solar energy system in your area.
Solar Productivity in Montana
Montana’s homes may suffer some fierce winters, but they also see their fair share of sunshine as well. In fact, the sun is so intense here that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates the average solar energy system can generate around 4.5 to 5 kilowatt hours daily. Some places in the southern part of the state, particularly the southeast, may even see up to as much as 5.5 kilowatt hours on average. With long stretches of sunny days, Montana ranks high on the U.V. index—the scale that measures solar intensity. NREL estimates that it has an average 0.86 solar index level (by comparison, Nevada, the most sun-drenched state, has an index level of 1.19), placing it 15th amongst the states for solar productivity. That means there’s ample sunlight here to power a solar installation on your Montana rooftop.
Solar Popularity in Montana
As mentioned earlier, solar power in Montana is growing by leaps and bounds. NorthWestern Energy, a large utility in Montana, determined that solar power applications are growing exponentially each year—in 2015, there were 191 new project applications, in fact. Although a great deal of these were for commercial installations, residents here are eligible for many of the same incentive programs, which can help lower system costs exponentially as well.
Average Montana Residential Electricity Use and Cost
Solar installations aren’t the only thing on the rise in Montana—electricity consumption in The Treasure State has also been steadily increasing as well, up from 14,000 million Btus in 2005 to 17,000 million Btus in 2014. Meanwhile, the state also used about 4,969 million kilowatt hours, which breaks down to about 4,800 per person that year—quite a bit, considering the average American household consumed about 10,000 kilowatts per household that year. Thankfully, Montanans pay a bit less than the national average for electricity—about 9.6 cents per kilowatt, compared to 12 cents per kilowatt for the rest of the U.S. Still, with those usage numbers steadily growing, Montanans stand to save a lot by switching to solar power, especially as energy from nonrenewable sources becomes harder to come by and more costly.
Installing Solar in Montana
There are around 40 solar installers operating in Montana, most of them based in the southwestern portion of the state, especially in Missoula, Billings, and Helena. That gives homeowners here plenty of options for installing solar power in their homes; however, due to the absence of national solar companies, like Sungevity and SolarCity, alternative purchasing strategies like solar leases may be harder to come by.
Montana State Solar Support
A state’s support of renewable energy is usually most clearly demonstrated through the enactment of a renewable portfolio standard—a set of statewide goals for statewide clean energy adoption. In 2005, Montana passed its own guidelines, which set the standard at 5 percent renewable energy by 2009, 10 percent by the end of 2014, and 15 percent by 2015, and each year thereafter. All public utilities were required to comply.
That means there is definitely clear support in the state for renewable energy, especially for commercial adoption. Montana offers very generous incentives for businesses subsidizing their energy needs with solar power. However, as adoption numbers grow, the burden has been on utility companies to dish out more and more money for state incentives. That’s caused the public utilities commission to reconsider tax credits and net metering, presenting a somewhat uncertain future for solar powered businesses in the area. However, one thing that is certain is the fate of solar energy—as panels and equipment are becoming more efficient and affordable, adoption numbers will only increase, in Montana and all throughout the U.S., meaning governments and utilities fighting over solar power will eventually be forced to get on board.
Montana State Solar Incentives
There are plenty of solar loan programs, incentives, and tax credits to help support solar households with the purchase and maintenance of their equipment. Here are a few of those offerings:
Net Metering: Solar powered homes that are customers of one of Montana’s investor-owned utilities are eligible for net metering, which credits residents for net excess energy generation that they return to the power grid. Credits can be applied to the homeowners’ next utility bill and any extra credits not used by the end of the year are returned to energy providers.
Renewable Energy Systems Exemption: Renewable energy systems tend to raise homes’ property values, meaning that your home will be worth more—and you’ll have to pay higher property taxes. However, in Montana, your home is exempt from any additional taxes leveraged by the installation of solar energy systems. There is a $20,000 maximum cap on the incentive.
Residential Alternative Energy System Tax Credit: Montana homeowners who install solar electric systems, solar space heating, and solar water heating in their homes are eligible for a credit on their state income taxes, the credit is worth 100 percent of systems costs, up to $500 per taxpayer, or $1,000 per household.
Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program: Residents of Montana can apply for a low-interest loan to use towards the purchase of solar power equipment and installation. The loan amount is worth up to $40,000, with a 10-year loan term. The interest rate is reset every year—in 2014, for instance, that rate was 3.25 percent.
Additionally Montana households can take advantage of a federal incentive that returns homeowners 30 percent of the total cost of solar equipment. The Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit offers a rebate, returned on the homeowner’s income taxes, for systems that generate over half of a home’s energy demand. To apply for this incentive, complete IRS form 5695 when you file your taxes.
Montana Local Solar Incentives
Most incentives in Montana are organized at the state level, rather than through local governments or regional utilities. However there is one program, offered by NorthWestern Energy, that pays solar homeowners for their investment in renewable energy. The details for this program are listed below:
NorthWestern Energy USB Renewable Energy Fund: Low income residents served by NorthWestern Energy are eligible to apply for an incentive worth $2,000 per customer for installing solar power in their homes. For systems to be eligible for the incentive, they must have been installed by an approved contractor and meet a list of qualification (a list of those guidelines is available here).