Solarize Billings is a campaign of Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council. We are bringing community members from Billings and Yellowstone County together to get more solar energy in the Yellowstone Valley! Solarize Billings is working with expert installers and bringing information to you on how to get solar on your home or business.
Going solar during COVID
You may be wondering, why go solar during the current COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic and climate change are largely the result of a global high energy way of life that stresses the planet’s resources, and stresses its inhabitants. The solution to the pandemic and the solution to energy is the same: Stay Local. We need to support our local businesses and workers whenever and wherever possible. Purchasing PV systems promotes local economies, keeps money in the community, and promotes a green collar work force. Owning one’s own PV system increases our resilience against price fluctuations in grid electricity.
While it feels like the world is on hold, our lives go on. We should plan for and invest in the future. We know how to be careful and take care of one another to prevent the spread of the virus. Let’s build community through these tough times, and go solar!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Solarize?
Solarize is a short term local effort that brings together groups of potential solar customers through widespread outreach and education. This model helps customers access solar installation companies that are offering competitive, transparent pricing.
Who is eligible to join Solarize?
If you live in Yellowstone County and you own your roof, you are eligible to join Solarize.
How do I know if my home or business is suitable for solar?
A south or southwest-facing roof are the most ideal locations for a solar electric system. Shading can cause a decrease in your system’s ability to function at its maximum capacity. To avoid this, ensure trees and other obstructions, current and future, do not compromise your system. When you schedule your at-home solar assessment, your assessor will provide specific information on your roof’s viability.
How does solar PV work?
A solar PV system generates electricity by converting sunlight into electricity that can be used in your home. This reduces the amount of electricity you need to purchase from your utility. Your utility keeps track of how much electricity you supply to the grid as well as how much you purchase, and bills you only for your net electricity consumption. At the end of any billing period, if overall electricity production exceeds consumption (indicated by a negative meter read) a billing credit is applied to your next bill. If you produce more energy than you consume in a year, you will not get payment for the extra energy supplied to the grid. This is due to Montana state legislation, and can change if we get involved and speak up!
How are solar PV systems sized?
The size of a solar PV system is often described in watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). 1,000 W = 1 kW. Watts are a unit of power, just like the horsepower of an engine. They express the maximum possible output of energy the system can produce at any point in time. When sunlight strikes solar PV panels, they produce electricity that is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). Kilowatt hours are the units of energy you buy from your utility and use in your home to run your appliances, lighting, and electronics. Your system will be sized based on the amount of energy you use and the amount of usable space on your roof.
Will the system produce electricity on cloudy days?
Yes, just not as much. Under an overcast sky, panels will generate less electricity than they produce on a clear, sunny day.
What sort of maintenance is required?
Solar electric systems require very little maintenance. Rain showers will generally take care of the pollen and dust that fall on your solar panels. You may have to trim trees and maintain branches to protect your system from falling limbs, minimize shading and maximize electric production. Snow removal is not necessary or recommended unless proper precautions and tools are used to avoid personal injury or damage to the panels. Snow tends to slide off or get blown away by the wind here in Montana.
Will my system produce power if there is a blackout?
Without a battery backup, grid-tied solar electric systems won’t operate when the power goes out. You can add a battery backup to your system to keep the lights on during a blackout, typically these types of backup systems can range from $5,000- $15,000.
How much will I save by installing a solar electric system?
Your solar savings depend on the size of the system you choose, your annual electrical usage, electricity rates and any financing option that you choose. With your home solar assessment, you will receive information on much electricity your new system is expected to produce on an annual basis and an estimation on how much you will save on an annual basis. Sign up for your home assessment to find out.
Will I still receive a monthly electric bill after installing a solar electric system?
Yes. You will receive a monthly bill from your utility company as you always have, but the amount owed will differ depending on your monthly electrical usage. Depending on how your system is sized, you may accrue credits in the more productive summer months, which can be carried over and used in the less productive winter months.
Are state incentives available for my system?
The Montana Alternative Energy Systems Tax Credit is $500 per individual and up to $1000 per household (MT Dept. of Revenue). However, since the passage of SB 399 at the 2021 Montana State Legislature, this tax incentive will only be available for systems installed on or before December 31, 2021.
Are federal incentives available for my system?
The federal government provides an income tax credit equal to 26% of your system’s total installed cost, net of state incentives. This can be claimed on your tax return. This tax credit is set to reduce to 22% in 2021, and fully expire in 2023. The ITC is a 30% tax credit for solar systems on residential (under Section 25D) and commercial (under Section 48) properties.
Are there financing options available?
Yes. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has a Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program (AERLP) which provides low interest loans (3.25%) for renewable energy projects like installing a solar PV system. You can find more information at the DEQ website here.
How does solar impact my property values?
Studies have shown that homes with solar energy systems sell for more than homes without them. However, your property value will only increase if you own, rather than lease, your solar panel system. In most parts of the country, going solar will actually increase your property value more than a kitchen renovation.
Meet our selected solar installers:
About Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council:
Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council is a grassroots organizing affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council. We advocate for a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable Billings community.
Questions about Solarize Billings? Contact Caroline Canarios at firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 248-1154.