Is Rooftop Solar Worth It?

Currently, 48 Northern Lights, Inc. (NLI) members have additional generation beyond the metered power they receive from the cooperative. One of these types of generation is solar. A rooftop solar installation at your residence or business could be worth the investment, but it is a complicated matter that needs to be thoroughly reviewed before making a decision. I encourage you to seek out online resources.

One of the first things to consider is whether your roof is positioned south and is in good condition. Your roof may need repairs or replacement before solar panels are installed. Will the location of the solar panels receive sun year-round and not be blocked by shadows from trees or other buildings?

The second consideration is your use and rates. If your use is not high, you likely won’t financially benefit from the cost of the installation. Unless you are going off NLI’s system completely, you will still be billed a monthly basic charge plus any kilowatt-hours used.

NLI has some of the lowest energy rates in the country at 0.0823 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The national average is 13.72 cents per kWh, and is as high as 34 cents per kWh in some areas. Power costs should be factored into whether or not it makes sense to spend the money on a rooftop solar installation.

Also, keep in mind our area averages about 175 sunny days a year, which means there are about 190 days with limited sunshine.

Any extra generation a rooftop solar installation produces will be put on NLI’s grid, and the member will be paid the avoided cost for the extra generation. The current avoided cost rate is 0.0401 cents per kWh. This is credited annually to accounts.

There are solar companies that will sell, loan or lease a rooftop solar installation to you. You may be able to buy the system outright or take a loan out on your home’s equity. A loan directly with a solar installer may be similar; however, there may be additional strings attached.

With a lease, the solar installer or another company owns the panels on your house. The terms of these types of agreements can vary from 10 to 25 years. If you are not sure if you will be in your same home or business for 25 years, this is probably not a good option.

Our team recommends you shop around and get quotes from three to five different companies and review agreements carefully. Ask questions about the terms, duration and how the companies benefit from your purchase or lease. Make sure the company provides you information about any available tax or rebate incentives.

If you want rooftop solar to be backup power during an outage, you will need to buy additional equipment to do so.

A battery system allows generation to be stored for later use. There are also special inverters that can allow the solar to be used while the utility has a power outage. The inverter would only provide power if the sun is out.

These additional systems can be expensive and should be compared to the cost of installing a traditional backup generator.

If your desire is to use renewable energy, most of NLI’s power comes from hydroelectric dams.

Is rooftop solar worth it? That depends on many factors and will require you to do your research. If you decide you want to have rooftop solar, please contact NLI. There are requirements and paperwork that need to be in place to keep everyone safe.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.