The Northwestern Energy Solar PV Grant

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As a company with a NABCEP Certified Solar Installer, we are one a few companies in the state that qualifies for special $6,000 grants from Northwestern Energy for Solar PV installs. We’ve been granted access to 11 such grants and have already allocated a few of them.  Our goal it to have them all in install mode by Halloween.  If you have been considering Solar PV, this sort of assistance really starts to make it affordable, especially coupled with State and Federal Tax Credits.

Consider that the average US home uses 9000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of power per year.  This is roughly 26.5 kWh per day. For example’s sake, we’ll say 25 kWh, which would be easy to obtain with minor energy retrofits).  If you figure that we have, on a annual average in Western Montana, 5-hours of sun per day to make energy from, that would mean we’d need to produce 5 kW of energy from that system, per hour, to get to 25 kWh.
5 kW x 5 h = 25 kWh

Now consider that the average panel produces 185 W.  This would mean the 5.5 panels would be needed to produce 1 kW.
185 W x 5.5 panels = 1000 W
1000 W = 1 kW = 5.5 panels

So, to get to the 5 kW system we’re looking for, the average system would require 27 panels.
5.5 panels = 1 kW
27 panels = 5 kW

Now, most folks are not interested in offsetting 100% of their energy quite yet.  Here in Missoula we have annual net metering.  This means that you are assessed a bill each month depending on how much energy your system will put back in the grid (i.e. in January that might only be 10% and in July it could be 120%).  At the end of the year your total usage and production are assessed.  If you produced a deficit of energy, you will already have paid that amount through your monthly billing.  If you produced a surplus, well, you’re neighbor thanks you for putting clean, solar energy back into the grid.  But, at this point, Northwestern Energy doesn’t pay you back.  That’s not to say they won’t someday, with energy rates increasing at 4.4% on average.   However, since they currently do not pay you for your surplus, we usually design and install systems that cover 90% or less of your annual energy needs.

So, back to the example above.  Take the 5 kW system.  Let’s say we only want to go with 75% coverage.  We’re now at 3.75 kW (or 3750 watt system).  At an average rate of $5-$8, per watt, installed, we’ll use $6 in this example.
3750 W x $6/W = $22,500

Now, apply the $6000 Northwestern Energy Solar PV Grant, 30% Federal Tax credit, and $500 per MT tax payer credit (so, $1000 for most households):

$22,500 (gross)
- $6,000 (NW Energy)
- $4,950 (30% Federal Tax Credit)
- $1,000 ($500/person MT Tax Credit)
=$10,550 (net)

This is, of course, just an example.  But is a good indicator of what’s out there today.  If you don’t have tax liability this year, the tax credits can be carried forward for up to 5 years.  There are also other incentives and tax deductions out there, as well as some forms of revolving loan financing that can be applied to either the net or gross amount.