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State offering incentives for solar installations

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MORRIS – Minnesotans interested in saving money and saving the planet can look to an incentive program being administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce that will offer rebates to Minnesota residents and businesses who install solar thermal or solar electric systems.

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The Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program is a 10 year, $15 million dollar program that will offer up to $250,000 per year in rebates for solar thermal systems that are made in Minnesota and certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Program.

There are currently three Minnesota companies certified to offer solar thermal systems, including one in Alexandria, Solar Skies. The other companies are Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) and Energy Conservation Products and Services.

The program offers different rebate amounts for residential and commercial buildings for customers of investor-owned utilities – Otter Tail Power, Xcel Energy, Alliant Energy and Minnesota Power.

A single family residence can receive either 25 percent of the installed cost of a system, up to $2,500. Multiple family residences have a maximum rebate of $5,000 while commercial installations can reach a rebate amount of $25,000.

The program also offers a different style of incentive for solar electric systems (solar photovoltaic or solar PV) of under 40 kilowatts, which are available from two companies, tenKsolar and Silicon Energy.

The rate for solar PV systems varies, explained Eric Buchanan, renewable energy scientist at the West Central Research and Outreach Center.

"They're going to pay you for production – you're going to get a certain amount of money for every kilowatt hour you generate with those panels" over a 10 year contract, he said.

Buchanan said the program is very generous. The Silicon Energy panels will offer a rebate of $.39 per kilowatt hour of electricity generate. Users generally pay about $.10 per kilowatt hour for electricity, so the program will basically pay about four times more for solar electricity, said Buchanan.

Buchanan estimated that an adequate solar system for a single family home would cost about $40,000 to install. Over the 10 year contract, the system could produce enough electricity to garner about $27,000 in rebates.

That, coupled with the electricity savings from the system, could almost pay for the entire solar system, Buchanan said.

The incentive program also rewards solar systems that are installed in areas with good access to sunlight to generate more electricity. In Morris the best location for a solar system is facing south at about 40 degree angle from horizontal. Solar system installers or independent experts can do a site analysis to see where the best location for a solar system might be in a given area, said Buchanan.

"This is going to encourage good applications of the technology," Buchanan said.

The incentive programs also benefit the utilities participating. Utilities are required to provide a certain amount of electricity created by renewable resources. The solar electricity generated by personal systems will be absorbed into the utility's renewable energy requirement, Buchanan said.

Applications for the program for either type of system will be accepted annually between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28 from 2014 through 2013 and will be selected by lottery.

For more information about renewable energy incentives visit www.dsireusa.org or the Minnesota Department of Commerce at http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/topics/resources/energy-legislation-initia...

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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