Category Archives: Rebates & Financing

Solar Myth #8 – Busted

Solar Myth #8  Solar will get more efficient, so I should wait (I don’t want to buy the first VCR)

Fact: Solar is a mature technology, and there has never been a better time to install solar.  Basic solar photovoltaic technologies have been around for more than 30 years. While efficiencies have increased and costs have decreased, the basic solar electric panel is the same solar technology used in the 1960’s and 70s. The solar industry, like other electricity-generating industries, does not evolve as rapidly as the electronics industry has. (unlike computers or cellphones which experience dramatic improvements in short periods of time). When panels become more efficient, it simply means you wouldn’t need as many, because they’re better at converting. Given stable technology profile, a 30% federal tax credit (currently sun-setting in 2019) and a 500.00 per tax payer Montana State Tax Credit, solar is more affordable than ever and makes sense right now. Once installed, the panels are solid state, with no moving parts and have a 25 year warranty.

Solar Myth #2 – Busted

Myth #2  Solar doesn’t work in Montana

Fact:  Montana is a great state for Solar.  Solar electric systems have been installed and working in Montana for over thirty-plus years.  Our first company Sunelco helped to make many of these systems possible.  We lived off grid and used the products that we sell every day.  That being said, the true game changer in Montana was net-metering system.  This allows Montanans to harness the sunshine generated on our long solar days in the summer time, feed back into the utility grid and use the power during our shorter winter days.  Solar irradiation levels vary across the United States, but every state receives enough sunlight to make solar a good investment. Solar panels will continue to produce a significant amount of energy even on overcast days. Germany has more solar than any other country in the world (and six times the installed capacity of the U.S.), yet Germany’s solar resource is roughly equivalent to that of Alaska.  Solar can work in almost any climate, as long as panels are properly installed in an un-shaded location. Solar panels work with light, not heat so it doesn’t matter how cold it gets outside. In fact, solar panels perform better in cooler temperatures than very hot temperatures.

 

2016 – 30% Federal Tax Credit -still time

Still time to order your solar electric system to qualify for the 2016 30% Federal Tax Credit.  Don’t let this sunset on you.

 

Federal Tax Credits
Residential 30% Renewable Energy Credit (thru 2019)This tax credit is applicable for all primary and secondary private homes.  It includes all associated costs, such as installation and electrical work.

State (Montana) Tax Credits
Montana State provides a 500.00 per tax payer tax credit, or 1000.00 per couple for your solar installation. 

Check Out this Net Zero Habitat for Humanity Home!

SBS Solar is super excited to show you the latest Habitat for Humanity of Ravalli Co home in Stevensville, Montana.  This is an all-electric home with new energy star appliances, LED lighting and a very well insulated envelope.

With a $17,000 grant from NorthWestern Energy, SBS Solar was able to install a 30 module, 7.5kWh array with a grid tie inverter and an air source heat pump. We installed this system in December and made the final tie into the grid and installed a net meter on January 2nd.

 

As of this writing 5 months later, the system has made more power than what the home used thru the building process.  We utilized electric, milk house, resistant type heaters to keep our workers warm and set the drywall mud.  We eventually installed an air source heat pump in March, after the coldest period of winter.

Now that the family has moved in we will see how well all the systems preform and the actual electric usage. Depending on this power usage, we will see if they are actually netting the big Zero at the end of the year.

It was a lot of fun, and a honor, being part of the design and building of what is possibly the first net zero home in Western Montana.

The State of the Solar Grant in Missoula, And Beyond…

There has been much talk about solar grants in our region this summer.  It’s no secret that solar sales were up by near triple in first quarter for most solar installers in the greater Missoula and Western Montana region, as seen in this article in April 2012 in the Missoula Independent.  And then the grants suddenly went dry in July of this year.  Another article in the Indy shares the details.

Here’s the gist:

  • Northwestern Energy gave out $3/watt up to 2000 watts (or 2kw) for grid-tied Solar PV installs in their territory.  This amounted to the $6000 grant folks would commonly ask for.
  • After the 2010 election, some state legislatures threatened to cut the state tax credits of $500/tax payer, $1000/couple, but it stood true.  And the 30% Federal tax credit remained strong.
  • In 2011, hard costs dropped nearly 40% for Solar PV, taking that $6k grant on a 2kW from a 30% coverage on an $18.5K system to a 50-60% coverage of install total on that same 2kW system, now costing under $11K.
  • By early 2012, solar energy was hitting an all time high in popularity on a national and global scale – everything from solar in China and India to solar on the White House, to solar farms in the southwest and solar financing companies popping up.

At this point at SBS Solar, like most local installers, we were selling our grants faster than we could get them.  At the same time, Northwestern Energy was having more requests than ever for solar grants, especially in the Missoula area, and they were maxing out their grant fund.  This, coupled with the drastic drop in pricing, brought things to a (temporary?) standstill in early summer of this year.

What we do know is that Northwestern Energy asked the MREA for a recommendation on how to proceed.  We at SBS Solar, and many of our fellow installers, weighed in with similar sentiments.  Cut the grants per watt in half to $1.50, but keep the maximum grant at $6000.  This would mean that a 2kW system now gets a $3000 grants ,and someone could get a $6000 grant for a 4kW system.   This would be awesome!  A triple-bottom-line here: Customers get a great grant and are now incented to go with a larger system instead of stopping at 2kW, Installers are now selling larger systems (and perhaps more often) and Northwestern Energy is getting double the renewable energy put back into their grind for half the cost, thereby getting them to their renewable energy mandate faster.

Win-Win-Win.

So…. here we with no grants, a state tax credit and a federal tax credit that could be in jeopardy depending on the outcome of the November election, and little action in the market.

Enter the SBS Solar Private Solar Rebate.  We are offering a rebate for solar customers that is competitive with the aforementioned MREA recommendation to Northwestern Energy.  Roughly $1.50/watt.  We also have two different solar financing options, one state sponsored and one private.

If you’re interested in solar today, don’t wait for an answer until November (at the earliest), when you can get our rebate today:  www.sbslink.com.  406-541-8410.  Ask for Dan.

Is Solar Thermal Dead?

This is a great article… thought provoking with good information… suggesting that perhaps Solar Thermal is dead, unless you’re a laundromat or a college campus.

Now that PV rates have some down substantially, combined with various state and utility incentives, as well as federal tax credits, the article suggests it cheaper to heat w/ Solar PV rather than with Thermal.

We’ll followup to this post in a week or two with the numbers from Missoula and Montana so see if this actually makes sense in our area, or not.

Until then, enjoy the article… and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Molly

 

 

Thoughts from our Intern: MT Renewable Energy Factoids

Our Energy Intern/Office Manager, Nick Bowman, recently gave this short talk for one of his classes at UM.  We thought it made for an interesting blog post which has some talking points about renewable energy you might not have heard or might find interesting or useful:

Montana, with its huge potential for renewable energy, could do more to use its resources to help strengthen the economy.

Montana is currently ranked 22nd in the nation for the amount of renewable energy produced, yet has enough available resources to become 3rd in the nation if properly developed and invested.

Montana potential for wind is due to its topography. High mountains combined with spacious plains are perfect for developing wind farms. Wind Energy alone has enough power to produce 370 times the amount of electricity used by the state. Here is a great potential for economic growth.

In places where buildings are a barrier, as they decrease the amount of wind which can be harvested, we could use solar power to create renewable energy gains.  We need to increase the monetary incentives for solar installation, particularly in light of the cancelation of energy grants by Northwestern Energy.

Montana is also one of 13 states which can produce energy from geothermal hot spots. The technology of geothermal is constantly improving and needs to be developed in order for this technology to be effective without compromising the environment.

Yet with all this in mind Montanas still spend 4.7 billion dollars to produce fossil fuels every year.

Increased implementation of green energy is only possible through the contribution of the average American who wants to better this great nation. Political activism, alternative energy advocacy and service are among the few ways which people can contribute to helping renewable energy succeed in this struggling economy. I would recommend that, if nothing else, each and every person reminds their representatives that they support sustainable energy.

Let’s make a difference.

Nick Bowman

Top Solar PV Testimonial, Ever.

(What follows is quite possible the best Solar PV testimonial we could ever ask for.  With pictures!  We hope you agree.)

 

SBS Solar
401 South Orange St, Unit C
Missoula MT 59801

Dear SBS Solar:

Solar PV Pergoal, Central Missoula, Montana

I’m writing to share my great experience with your company and my 100% solar-powered home. In the fall of 2011, SBS installed a 24 panel, 6 kW, grid-tied solar PV system at my home in central Missoula. Because my house had additions, I don’t have one flat surface for the panels, so SBS hired subcontractors to design and install a covered back porch structure for the panels. I started producing all of my own power in the early spring and now in the summer am producing 50% morepower than I need. I will receive a credit for this extra power and it will mitigatethe power use in December or January when I might be producing as little as 30%of own my power.

100% Solar powered electric car, from home Solar PV system in Missoula, Montana

I recently installed more efficient appliances, and thus I will probably producemore power than I use this year. This surplus of power led me to decide to lease a 100% electric car, which will be 100% solar-powered car for at least 6 or 8 monthsout of the year.

I felt compelled to act because we can’t afford to ignore the signs of climate change or the role we play in it. I feel a moral obligation to reduce my carbon footprint, to protect biodiversity and protect the planet for future generations. Can you imagine the reduction of coal and oil consumption we could achieve if every family in Western Montana had a solar-powered home and solar-powered electric car? Maybe mega-loads, tar sands mining, and Otter Creek coal mining would all become unnecessary. The technology is available and ready for this now inWestern Montana.

The cost breakdown for my solar system:

COSTS INCLUDING STRUCTURE:

Materials and installation for PV system: $28,570
New back porch structure:$8,640
Engineering of structure:$1,643
City building permit for structure:$285
Relocation of power/gas lines for structure:$3,605
Electric panel relocation:$620
GROSS Total:$43,363

Northwestern Energy Grant ($6,000)
Federal Tax Credit($11,208)
State Tax Credit($500)
NET Total including structure:$25,655

 

COSTS EXCLUDING STRUCTURE:
Materials and installation for PV system: $28,570
Northwestern Energy Grant ($6,000)
State Tax Credit($500)
Federal Tax Credit($8,625)
NET Total excluding structure:$13,625

So essentially, the solar system had a net cost of less than $14,000 for 100% annual power.

The system will eventually pay itself off and then the power I use in my home and the “fuel” I use for my car will be free. While this is certainly a meaningful reward, for me the bigger reward is knowing that my decision to choose an alternative to coal and oil is a concrete physical step toward a safer planet for future generations. As Terry Tempest Williams has said: “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come.”

Thank you for the important work you are doing.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Smith
(contact info withheld to maintain customer privacy.  Please contact SBS Solar directly for more information) 

 

 

SBS Solar Welcomes New Office Manager

Hi, my name is Nick Bowman. I started interning at SBS Solar last spring through the Governor’s Energy Internship program. I received my Associate’s degree in Energy Technology form the College of Technology at the University of Montana in 2010 and I am currently pursuing a degree in Geosciences at the University of Montana.

SBS Solar hired me in June to be the full time office manager and I spend most of my time talking to our distributors, tracking and ordering the components needed for our installations, as well as talking to customers who come into our showroom in Missoula.

The best thing about working for SBS Solar is being a part of such an outstanding team.  The quality of our installations really makes me proud to be a part of this company and makes it easy to stand behind our work.  This job has given me a lot of work experience and tools which have developed my professionalism and has made me a better employee.  Also, working for SBS Solar has improved my understanding of renewable energy systems and solar application.

When I am not at work, in the summer, I enjoy hiking, camping, swimming, fishing and exploring the outdoors.  In the winter, I ski and snowboard.  I enjoy watching movies, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.  I also try to participate in advocating and lobbying for clean renewable energy.

Demistifying Solar Tax Incentives

I recently gave a talk for the Montana Sustainable Business Council on the incentives available for energy conservation.  I touched on federal and state tax credits, utility based grants and rebates and the state of Montana DEQ Revolving Loan Fund for renewable energy.

In the talk I mentioned that there has been some question as to whether the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy installation (which is no cap and can be carried forward for multiple years), is to be taken on the gross cost of the system or the net cost (after applied utility grants) of the system.

Turns out it’s either — depending on your system, residential or commercial, according to Kenton D. Swift, PhD, CPA, Associate Professor of Accounting, The University of Montana, School of Business Administration.

He was in the audience at my talk and was kind enough to approach me afterward to further discuss this question.  After some research he got back to me via email with the following information:

I wanted to give you a little information about one part of your presentation. When a homeowner installs a solar pv system, and receives a utility rebate, they need to reduce the cost of the system by the utility rebate before calculating the 30% federal tax credit. For instance, if the system costs $13,000 and the utility rebate is $6,000, the credit would be 30% of $7,000 or $2,100. This is actually the way you calculated the credit in your presentation, but you hinted it might be possible to take the 30% credit on the full cost. This seems to be a common confusion.

There are actually two separate 30% federal income tax credits, one for personal residences (IRC Code Sec. 25D), and one for business (IRC Code Sec. 48). Generally, the credits are the same except for this one issue about netting utility rebates. The law requires that the rebate be netted against the cost before calculating the 30% credit when taking the residential credit (IRC Code Sec. 25D). I have attached a recent letter from the IRS chief counsel’s office which describes this netting process. Again, it is the same way you actually did your example at the meeting, which is great.

For the 30% federal BUSINESS credit (IRC Code Sec. 48) there is no specific requirement to net the utility rebate against the cost of the system, before calculating the credit. Actually, there does not seem to be any current law explaining what to do. Thus, I believe that when taking the business credit, most taxpayers take the credit on the full cost of the system, before utility rebates. This is a better result than one can get when calculating the residential credit.

I hope that helps to clarify a confusing issue, which you have handled very well.

Someone at the meeting also asked about the property tax exemption for solar pv systems in Montana. Kent went on to clarify that “such systems are exempted from property taxes for 10 years.”

At SBS Solar we go to the DSIRE database for all of this information and have even been referred to this site by the IRS when we called them about the above questions!  This is also the site that Kent relies on for much of his information, or confirmation of information.  He notes that he has “checked their information for many states, and it always seems to be up-to-date, when I compare their explanation to state law.”

Feel free to be in touch with SBS Solar on your energy conservation incentive questions, or to get a project started in Montana.