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How a rebate helps Minn. solar compete with imports

The first installation using Silicon Energy solar PV modules. (Photo via Silicon Energy)

After a slow spring and summer, Dan Williams was busy this fall. The solar installer climbed rooftops across the Twin Cities in response to demand from a new made-in-Minnesota solar PV rebate.

Williams is vice president of Powerfully Green, a solar installation company based in Champlin, Minnesota. It’s among the first vendors for Silicon Energy, A Washington company that is Minnesota’s first residential solar electric panel maker.

“We sought them out early to go get trained in on their materials,” Williams said.

Silicon Energy started shipping its modules in September. Williams’ company, which he co-owns with CEO/President Rebecca Lundberg, did about 15 projects using panels from Silicon Energy’s plant in Mountain Iron.

The modules are more expensive than most solar PV panels. Silicon Energy says its product was designed to withstand extreme, northern climates better than those from its competition.

Williams is convinced the added cost is worth it. He installed a set of them on his own home a year ago and said the system sheds snow better than the other two panel types on his roof.

The higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean the customer will pay more. That’s because of a generous $2.75-per-watt rebate for Minnesota-made panels that is in addition to a $2.25-per-watt rebate for Xcel Energy customers.

Solar electric projects are also eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit.

When all is said and done, homeowners can end up paying as little as 10 percent of the project cost, Williams said.

The made-in-Minnesota rebate makes Silicon Energy’s panels cost competitive with cheap Chinese imports, he said.

A three kilowatt project using Chinese modules might cost in the range of $12,000 to $18,000 before incentives, Williams said. After the federal tax credit and Xcel rebate, the homeowner cost is between $8,000 and $9,000.

A comparable project made with Silicon Energy panels would cost between $25,000 and $27,000, but when you tack on the Minnesota-made rebate, the homeowner bill is around $5,000, according to Williams.

“Your net cost ended up being cheaper than the Chinese model,” Williams said.

The Silicon Energy projects Powerful Green installed this fall ranged in size from 2 kilowatts to 8 kilowatts. The bill to homeowners ranged from $4,000 to $9,000, which should be recouped in five to ten years, he said. “This is a far cry from where it was six years ago when we got started,” Williams said. His customers today get about five times as much solar for half the cost of what he paid for his own system.

Size isn’t the only variable that determines a project’s cost. Projects are most economical when the house’s roof has the right slant and position. Building mounts, awnings or other structures to hold the panels adds to the cost.

Williams finished the season with a backlog of projects to start in the spring.

Comments (6)

Do we have this in Michigan? Karen Wrbelis Rockford mi

By Karen Wrbelis on Jan 6, 2012

Here. Finally! Now, if we can stop this nonsense of installing wind turbines in critical habitat along the Mississippi River Flyway and offer incentives, subsidies and rebates so people can put solar panels on their homes instead we’ll be much better off. Solar power does exterminate entire species of animals and does not require crafting deceitful ABPP in order to hide the fact that you[re destroying ecosystems.

By Mary on Jan 6, 2012

Wind power’s exterminated an entire species of animals? Source, please.

By Ken Paulman on Jan 8, 2012

Our Federal government is 15 trillion in debt and it’s giving subsidies for Solar panels. Obsured, the Feds should be cutting spending and certainly not subsidizing anything right now.

By Jackie Fredericks on Jan 8, 2012

I think Mary meant to say does ‘not’ exterminate. If we have to hit up rate payers and taxpayers for these solar boondoggles, let’s at least buy Minnesota made solar panels.
Germany is the poster country for this feed in tariff solar nonsense where low and middle income rate payers fund the wealthy to adorn their homes with solar panels. They can then display how eco friendly they are.

By Rolf Westgard on Jan 9, 2012

Rolf – I live in Austria right now and have recently taken a trip to Germany. Just take a train anywhere in a German speaking country and you’ll see that solar thermal and PV panels adorn a variety of buildings, not just those of the wealthy, instead you see them factories, business offices, average residences, and farm houses and barns. The mentality here is less individualistic. People here recognize the public benefit that their public investment in solar a. means less money leaves their countries to buy fossil fuels, b. more work and jobs are maintained/created in their own country, and c. the positive externality of cleaner air and water is realized. Feed in tariffs when done correctly, as Germany seems to have demonstrated with its accelerated development of the solar industry and its strong exports, are not nonsense.

By Katie on Jan 9, 2012