WEISER — There are approximately 5,000 solar energy systems currently in Idaho producing electricity. With the advancement in technology and decreasing cost of equipment, this number is expected to increase to 17,000 in four years and to 50,000 within in the next 10 years.

A forum, Is Solar Power Right for You? at the Weiser Vendome on Oct. 22 provided information on the physical, practical, and financial aspects of adding solar panels to private property. The speakers were Mike Engle of the Portneuf Resource Council and Solarize Pocatello, Billie McWinn of Idaho Power’s Consumer Generation, Jesse Simpson of Altenergy, and Kevin King of the Idaho Clean Energy Association. Jim Reed was the Master of Ceremonies. The forum was sponsored by the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils (IORC) and the Weiser River Resource Council. The meeting room at the Vendome was provided by the Washington County Democrats. Approximately 80 people attended.

Idaho is an excellent location for solar systems, as the state has ample sunlight and clear days to make a solar system a positive choice for our area. A solar system can be effective as long as it is facing east, south or west or anywhere in between. Each system contains only three pieces of equipment, can be installed in a single day, and with no moving parts are virtually maintenance free. Residents in the northern Idaho area may need to remove snow from their panels due to snow accumulation. Solar systems can be installed on roofs of all types or on the ground. Their orientation can be fixed or they can have a mobile base that follows the sun. Typical system sizes of 5kW, 10kW, and 25kW can cost approximately $15,000, $30,000 and $70,000, respectively, before federal tax credits, which might not apply to everyone.

The utility serving your area will install a net meter between your system and the grid. The net meter will measure both the amount of power you purchase from the utility as well as the amount of power you deliver from your system to the utility. Power delivered by a customer is credited against their monthly bill. Excess credits are rolled over to the following months and do not expire. Connecting to the grid requires an application with the utility, and inspection of the equipment for compliance with the state and national electrical codes. Additional information can be found at Idaho Power’s website www.idahopower.com/solar.

There are many types of state and federal tax credits and grants available. A complete list for Idaho can be found at www.DSIREUSA.org. Agricultural businesses can also apply for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The attendees were advised to do a financial calculation or visit with their accountant to determine if a solar system will pay for itself (Rate of Return), or whether the profitability of this type of investment is acceptable (Internal Rate of Return).

Attendees were encouraged to set their goals first, do research to determine what program best fits their needs, and to get multiple bids from installers before making a final decision.

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