About two years ago, my wife (Jill Russell) and I made the decision to invest in solar electricity. We were interested in solar electricity for multiple reasons. Green and renewable energy was important for us and future generations, but so was having reliable energy production right in our own back yard (literally!). We wanted the security of knowing we would always have power to run water pumping for household and gardening, minimal refrigeration, and lights. Our 2KW solar system is not enough to power our entire house (with 2 kids under 4), but it helps offset our monthly power bill (100% in summer, about 30% in winter) and gives us security in knowing we will have power in the event of problems with the grid.

Planning for the project is the first step

We planned out our budget, looked at all of the grant, loan, and state and federal incentives and decided it was within our reach. First we needed to place a down payment ($500) with a qualified solar installer (Solar Plexus in Missoula) to get on a waiting list for the Northwest Energy grant program to help pay for our system. We also needed to decide what size we wanted our system to be. Northwest Energy will pay up to $7,000 on a 2KW grid tied system, so we decided to maximize the grant and opt for a larger system. We also decided to install our panel on a tracker that allows the panels to follow the sun and greatly increases the efficiency of our system.

It took around a year to move up on the list to receive a grant, and it took another year for us to reallocate and source the money to move forward; although, we could have also used a great Montana loan program from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (The Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program or AERLP) in place specifically for renewable energy projects up to $40,000 and guaranteed for any renewable energy or energy conservation project in Montana. The remaining amount due was just under $13,000, due just after the installation was completed. With a federal tax credit of 30% and a Montana tax credit of $500, that brought the remaining total cost down to around $8,500 installed (of a $20,000 system).

We now produce around 2KW of power for every hour of full sun and completely power our home on long hot summer sunny days. It’s a good feeling for us and our family, and we look forward to adding more solar (maybe solar hot water?) in our future. david max

Just in case you were wondering, this article was written using solar electricity!
Northwest Energy Renewable Energy Program:
Montana DEQ Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program:


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