January 25

Understanding Solar In East Idaho

Home Service

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In East Idaho, solar energy has become increasingly popular. Thousands of people in Idaho have chosen to go solar for many reasons. There are a lot of things to consider when making this decision, such as pricing, process, understanding your return on investment, and solar alternatives. A lot of these things can seem complex at first, but don't worry, we will break it down in a simple and easy way so you can make the most educated decision. 

Here's a simple guide to going solar in East Idaho in 2021. This guideline doe not cover purchase power agreements (Renting / Zero Down). Those tend to be very miss leading.

Solar in East Idaho is usually a financially sound idea if you meet these requirements:

  • You want to be more energy self reliant (100% energy offset is best).
  • You have a North or South facing home with no trees shading the roof. (east and west might still be possible but it's going to require more panels). 
  • If you need financing, and you are quoted a lower monthly bill than your currently paying, but you're okay with paying more especially in the winter when your panels are blocked by snow.
  • You use a battery backup or have a annual (not monthly) electric company true up period.
  • You pay a lot in taxes so that tax credit will help you pay for your system.
  • You have a credit score of 700 or higher.
  • You have lived in the home a year or more and you own the home.
  • Your home is a stick built home with a foundation (not manufactured, trailer or any other type of home)
  • You have a newer roof in the last 5-10 years.

Price

Two things combine to hold back solar adoption in East Idaho. They make realizing the return on your solar investment years longer.

1. East Idaho has some of the cheapest electricity in the United States.

2. Idaho is further distance from the equator than say Arizona, which means less sunlight especially during the winter. This translates into needing more solar panels and batteries, the most expensive components needed. But don't worry, Idaho is still 9th in sun exposure out of all the states.

$3.50/watt - $5.00/watt for you system installed.

Let's say you pay $4.25/watt, for a 5kw system (5kw is 5,000 watts, the average system size in East Idaho). The gross system cost would amount to $21,250 (not including batteries). 

Finance options are available. There are credit unions that specialize in solar loans that offer 20 year loans at a fairly low rate. 

Tax Credit

Luckily, if you get your system installed in 2021, you qualify for a 26% federal tax credit (not a refund). The government will deduct up to 26% of your system cost from your taxes. But be sure to speak with your accountant, only people that pay a lot in taxes will get the largest tax break. This 26% tax credit has recently been extended until 2022. In 2023, the credit will drop tp 22%, then 0% in 2024. So don't trust what your sales rep quotes you are for your expected tax credit.

Optional costs

If you plan on having a ground mount system installed on your property, there are additional costs associated with the system compared to a standard roof mount system. Plan to pay additional fees to cover racking and trenching costs. Most companies charge a few cents more per watt to cover racking costs. Trenching costs can range anywhere from $9.00/foot - $25/foot.

Process

If you choose to go solar, it is important to know that the process can take over a month after installation before your system is turned on and fully functional. The process of going solar goes as follows: 

Initial Meeting

Home Assessment

Permitting

Installation

Inspection and Interconnection

Process Outline

This is a rough outline of the solar scheduling and installation process. The process slightly varies by each company. 

Initial Meeting

Each solar company has a team of designers that prepare a custom proposal. They take your previous energy usage and add a panel array on a 3D model of your home. This proposal will show you the panel layout, cost, and how much you will save over a 30-year period. 

A solar representative will come to you and present the proposal. They will break down each aspect of the proposal and answer any questions you may have. Just know their proposal is likely to over estimate your break even point for switching to solar.

Residential Home Rendering East Idaho

Home Assessment

Once you decide to move forward, the representative will take photos of your home, meter, main service panel, and attic. The purpose of this home assessment is to gather necessary structural and electrical information so the company can submit paperwork for permitting. They also use these photos to create a final design of your home. 

Permitting

After the home assessment is complete, and the final design is created, the plans must be sent off and approved by the State of Idaho. Permitting laws can vary by city. 

Installation

The installation process is pretty straight forward. A 5kw roof mount should take less than a day to install. The installation includes electrical work being done and adding the racking and panels on the roof. 

The electrical work consists of tying in the electrical wiring from the panels into the main service panel so your system can transfer electricity to your home. An inverter and AC disconnect are also installed in this process. 

Please note that once racking is installed on your roof, this will most likely voids your roof warranty. They weather seal the roof. The job is done right so you don't have to worry about leaks.

Inspection and Interconnection 

Once the installation is complete, the project must be evaluated by a representative from The Idaho Division of Building Safety. They conduct the inspections on a first come first serve basis. It may take weeks before the inspection can be conducted. 

Once the project passes inspection, a representative from your power company will come out and make a final evaluation of the system. They will then swap out your current meter with a new meter that can track the extra energy that is fed back into the grid. 

Once you pass inspection, have your meter swapped, and are given the green light, you can turn your system on. Usually the solar company will call you and walk you through the process of turning your system on.  

Get a Free solar quote


Free proposal with 3D rendering of home, price, and savings breakdown and consultation with local solar professional. 

https://horizonpwr.com/residential-solar/

Net Metering 

If your system is tied into the grid, you can trade in (sell) the excess energy that your system produces to the power company. Your new meter can track the flow of this excess energy that is fed back into the grid. 

The power company will compensate you for what you feed into the grid in the form of credit. The credit can build up over time. But consider this gravy and don't factor it into your break even analysis. 

When your system isn't producing, you can take energy from the grid as needed. This is helpful at night or during the Winter months. You can use the credit you accumulated over time to pay for the energy you use from the grid. 

True-Up Period 

The true-up period is when the credit you accumulate restarts. Any leftover credits are lost. The true-up period and net metering program may vary company to company. 

You want to be with a power company that has an annual true-up period. This means that you can accumulate credit over a year period. So in the summer when the sun's out all day, you are more likely to accumulate credit. The excess credits gather in the summer can be used to power your home in the Winter when there is less sun during the day. 

A monthly true-up period means that the credit restarts every month. This means you cannot use credit that you accumulated in Summer to help power your home during the Winter. 

Basically the more time you have to accumulate credits, the better.

POWER COMPANY

True-Up

True-Up Month

Rocky Mountain Power

Annual

March

Idaho Power

Annual

March

Fall River Electric

Monthly

n/a

Idaho Falls Utilities

Monthly

n/a

On-Grid vs. Off-Grid

When deciding to go solar, you have the option to be tied into the grid or to go off-grid. 

On-Grid

On-grid means that you are still connected to the power company. You will be a part of their net metering program. You have the opportunity to build credit to your account. Your home can still receive additional power from the grid if needed. It's like you're using the power company as your battery. 

If there is a power outage, you will not receive power.

You can add batteries to back up your home, but that doesn't mean you're off-grid. The batteries for on-grid systems are only designed to run certain appliances for a short period of time, depending on the size of your battery backup system (Furnace starter, refrigerator, freezer...).  

Off-Grid

Off-grid means that you are disconnected from the power company entirely. This is typically only done for cabins without electricity ran to them. An off-grid system requires a full battery backup system (The largest expense and will need changed out several times in 20 years). 

The battery backup is designed to fully power your home in the times that your system doesn't produce enough to cover your usage. Your panels will power your home and that excess energy is used to charge the batteries. 

Off-grid allows you to be fully independent. It allows you to be prepared in case an emergency arises. 

It is much more expensive to be off-grid compared to on-grid because of the price of the batteries. 

Off-Grid Solar System

Going solar can be a even longer, long-term investment. It is important to research and understand the process of the companies in your area so you can make the most informed buying decision. 

Concerns With Solar

Here are some common concerns when going solar.

Selling your home - It's not a problem if all your permitting is in order and you had it installed by a reputable company.

Snow on panels - Yes this is a real problem, any snow will greatly reduce the effectiveness of your panels, it has to be cleared off to produce energy or you need to produce enough excess energy in the summer that your power company gives you back credits all winter long (make sure their true up period is annually). An extra panel or two will help tremendously with this.

Batteries are expensive - Even if you shell out the cost of the batteries, they are not great no matter how you look at it. The cost for batteries is high, they will need replacing several times over a 20 year period and you never have enough battery to power your home on cloudy days for more than a few days. Most off grid systems typically limit what inside your home you can even run of battery (Furnace starter, fridge, freezer) and not much else. 

Air conditioners are power hungry - Running the air conditioners all day in the summer will require a roof completely full of panels. For some the expense is just to great.

About the author 

Jason

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