The state of Montana goes by many names. Whether you know it as “Big Sky Country” or “The Last Best Place,” Montana’s commitment to preserving its natural wonders goes hand-in-hand with its steadfast spirit of resilience and independence. One way in which that spirited commitment shows itself today is in the steady growth of the Montana solar industry, as homeowners and business owners switch to more sustainable and cost-effective energy sources. With just a few facts and figures in mind, you too can start planning towards your energy independence today.
The State of Solar in Montana
Montana’s natural resources and long winters make it an ideal place to go solar, with the second-highest per capita rate of energy consumption in the country. However, the state’s massive solar resource (26% greater than the reported national average) underlies a statewide potential to generate 8,000 terawatt-hours of solar energy annually – well above the 14 terawatt-hours of electricity used in all of Montana in 2015!
Even more good news is that the Montana solar industry is only growing bigger. The 46 solar companies in Montana today employ over 270 individuals, who have installed a total of 1,633 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems statewide as of Q3 2019. While that number alone is enough to power 8,124 private homes, it is only expected to increase as the price of solar continues to drop.
Solar energy in Montana also enjoys growing community support. Not only is it supported by the Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA) as an industry that will help “conserve natural resources, create jobs, and increase the independence and resilience of our communities,” but it has the proven potential to scale across entire communities, too. Also spearheading the effort to scale solar PV projects across Montanan communities is the Energy Office’s Montana Solar Community Project (MSCP), which supports cooperatives in Flathead and Missoula, and has partnered with MREA as well as with Montana-Dakota Utilities and NorthWestern Energy, the two largest electrical utilities in the state.
The many benefits of going solar in Montana
We all know that switching to more sustainable power solutions like solar PV is critical to protecting the environment for future generations. In the state of Montana, that effort is part and parcel of living in “The Last Best Place,” where environmental stewardship, open space, and strong community are valued above all else. Switching to solar brings many benefits to individuals and communities alike, and can set you on the path towards greater financial and energy independence.
- Switching to solar energy helps the environment. Long winter months and hot summers mean that Montanan residents use, on average, just under 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year per household. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that number compounded over 20 years is the equivalent of 138 metric tons of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions from over 152,000 pounds of coal burned or emissions from 46.9 tons of landfill waste. However you do the math, offsetting even a fraction of your home’s electrical usage has immense and quantifiable environmental benefits.
- Solar systems also make you money. How? Through something called “net metering,” whereby homeowners sell unused solar generation back to the grid. In Montana, all surplus energy is applied as full-price credits to future bills – which become especially handy during those long, low-sun winter months! Net metering is supported and protected politically, too. In fact, the Montana Public Service Commission recently and unanimously struck down a proposal from NorthWestern Energy that would have ended net metering and implemented demand charges for new rooftop solar customers.
- Going solar is widely incentivized, too. A wide number of state and federal programs and incentives help make going solar easier and more affordable. Montana boasts the country’s 9th best state solar tax credit, $500 per individual or $1,000 per couple. In addition, Montana’s 0% sales tax combined with a statewide property tax exemption ($20,000 of the assessed energy system value for single-family residences, for ten years following installation) means that you will pay $0 in taxes on any solar PV installation for the first ten years. This is complemented by a number of state-run grants and loan programs for renewable energy projects, including an Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program (AERLP) that provides $0 down, low-interest loans of up to $40,000 to help cover installation costs. At the federal level, homeowners with solar PV systems are also eligible for the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Although the ITC currently offers a 26% tax credit, that amount is scheduled to drop to 22% in 2021 and 0% in 2022 – making now the time to go solar!
- Solar infrastructure is growing. Although Montana falls behind other states when it comes to solar rebates—with no rebates offered currently—its history in implementing some of the first state-level rebate programs in the country suggests room for future change. Administrative and technical infrastructure governing how solar PV owners can plug into the electrical grid and send surplus power back to utilities (known as “interconnection standards”) is also growing. While state regulations do not yet mandate a standard agreement with utilities, all systems up to 10 megawatts are guaranteed grid access. The current standard also includes multiple “tiers” of interconnection, which can help expedite approval and decrease processing times and waits.
Starting your solar journey in Montana
With falling solar equipment prices, Montana’s recent net metering victory, and the soon-to-expire federal tax credit, there’s never been a better time to go solar. The Montana solar industry is in the middle of immense growth, having already quadrupled the state’s total solar energy production between 2016 and 2017 alone – and that growth is only expected to continue as more people and businesses take notice of the vast benefits of going solar. As one of the premier solar companies in Montana, IPS is looking forward to charting this new territory and helping to bring more clean, renewable energy to our great state. Contact one of our Solar Specialists to start your journey toward going solar in Montana.
About the Author
Dan Perata knows solar, from the clean room to the boardroom. A world traveler who studied abroad and received an MBA from Boise State University, Dan used his experiences and knowledge first as a consultant and then later to start, build, and sell his own businesses. After the sale of his last business (a large production sourdough bakery), Dan decided to focus on renewable energy by starting his solar training at Solar Energy International about 10 years ago. He then worked at multiple solar companies before joining IPS in Montana as regional manager.