For some time now we have talked about the possibility of getting solar panels or even if it would be feasible. Feasible in a couple of different ways. First, would going solar in eastern Montana even pay for itself? Second, who would be able to install such a system?
This past winter, we participated in a webinar held by Dawson Resource Council, our local Northern Plains affiliate, where Montanans shared their personal experiences with going solar. This, along with the tax breaks, convinced us solar was the way to go. Thanks to the efforts of Dawson Resource Council’s Solarize Glendive campaign, a solar installer, Thirsty Lake Solar, came to Glendive and did a site assessment at no cost to us. The assessment showed us how many panels we’d need, how the panels would be arranged, and how this would affect our energy bill.
Within a couple of months, our solar panels were installed after securing a loan through the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for the project. We were then given a tutorial by the installer on how to operate the system which took about ten minutes. We also installed an app that works with the system that shows us how much energy is being produced and how well everything is working. Once the install was completed, Montana-Dakota Utilities tested our solar system for a week to make sure it was operating within their specifications. Finally, in late October, our system was up and producing energy from the sun.
Since we were one of the first installations in the area, there has been a learning curve about the whole process, and we hope others can benefit from our experience in order to make the transition to solar as seamless as possible. As far as how well our system works, we’ll have to let it soak up the sun over the winter and into the summer before we will be able to reach any solid conclusions.
Just a couple of other points. After our system was installed, we got a call from Thirsty Lake Solar wondering if we had any questions or concerns. They are very committed to making sure we have a professionally- installed quality product. Jeff Wongstrom – the owner, installer, and electrician – even changed a corroded 100 amp main breaker for us. One of the things we learned as the process went along is that our energy provider demands that a solarized home have liability coverage of one million dollars. That added about $10/month onto our home insurance. It’s planned that our system will pay for itself in about 15 years, and the system has a 20 year warranty.
During this whole process, we have had a lot of people driving by and looking. A few skeptics have given us their opinion of the “solar thing,” but for the most part people are looking to see if this can actually work. Our system produced enough electricity in November that our electric bill was cut in half. Not bad for short days of late fall.