Sustainable Missoula: Spring’s sunshine heralds ease of solar power

It’s officially spring, and though there’s more snow(!) in the forecast, this time of year the sun climbs higher in the Montana sky and we gladly welcome its warmth.

Ah, the sun’s energy. Spring is a perfect time to think about “going solar,” and if you’re wondering whether now is the time to take the plunge for your home or business, keep reading.

If a rooftop solar array is not in the cards for you right now, keep reading anyway. There are always ways to dabble in solar and learn more about what is arguably western Montana’s best and more cost-effective clean energy resource, and the one best positioned to help us decarbonize our energy system and be part of a real climate solution.

First, although it can be hard to fathom after a long, gray winter, solar as an energy source actually works well in this region. Montana’s solar resource is as good as Florida’s, and even Missoula has a much stronger solar resource than Germany, one of the world leaders in solar installations. Here’s what else we have going for us in Montana:

  • There are still federal and state tax credits that significantly reduce a system price.
  • “Net metering” laws allow us to produce energy on our property and tie into the electrical grid. We can both produce and consume our own homegrown energy (within limits).
  • The price of solar panels has dropped precipitously over the last decade.
  • Loan/finance packages are available to make this investment pencil out.
  • There are a number of excellent, talented local solar installers who love to help people go solar.

And there’s more. Over this past winter, Climate Smart Missoula partnered with the Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA), Missoula Federal Credit Union, and local and state governments to develop a SOLAR-EASE program. Hundreds joined us for two free public workshops. If you missed it, you can find the entire workshop recording (thanks to MCAT), as well as the presentation slides and lots more resources on a dedicated webpage: https://www.missoulaclimate.org/solar-ease.html.

This is a one-stop shop for everything you need to know, and includes these resources from our partners:

  • MREA’s directory of local solar installers and updates on state renewable energy policy
  • Missoula Federal Credit Union’s Financial Analysis of Residential Solar guide, as well as a spreadsheet that you can use to do a financial analysis of solar for your own home, a worksheet to compare bids from solar contractors, and information about the Credit Union’s solar loans
  • Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Alternative Energy Loan program (low-interest loans)
  • City of Missoula Solar Permitting Checklist
  • Missoula County Solar Information Website and Solar Permitting Checklist

One question that pops up a lot these days – what about those pesky solar tariffs the Trump Administration recently placed on imported solar panels?  Our friends at MREA describe this disappointing action as more of a speed bump than a road block. The tariffs (assuming they withstand legal challenges) tack on a small price but should not impede folks from being able to afford a system today, as these solar installers make clear.

Now to a handful of solar options for all. Have you considered a solar oven for your backyard or car camping fun? Consider a DIY version or check out GoSunStove — I’ve successfully made coffee, bread, roasted veggies and more with a GoSun oven!

You can visit Climate Smart (or an outdoor store) and buy an inexpensive a solar lantern, perfect for backpacking or the back porch. These popular inflatable lanterns have a small solar panel and battery so they hold a charge. On a side note, I took a handful with me on a recent professional exchange program to Vietnam and in this sunny, tropical country folks had never seen solar lights—they were impressed. (Curious about solar in Vietnam? Check out my recent blog post.)

Finally, you can support businesses and non-profits that are going solar, since they’re doing their part to help us build a more sustainable and resilient community. Here’s one: the MUD project, one of Missoula’s oldest sustainability organizations, is raising funds to add solar panels to their tool library on Wyoming St. You can make a donation to MUD or, better yet, join them for dinner March 27 at Caffe Dolce. Make reservations now—Caffe Dolce is giving 15% of ALL proceeds to support new solar panels!

Happy spring and happy sunshine!

Amy Cilimburg is the executive director of Climate Smart Missoula and installed a small solar array on her home back in 2011.

Upcoming Sustainability events:

The film Saving Snow. April 2. Roxy Theater. 7 pm. Free but reserve your tickets ahead of time. Info here.

Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup. April 5. Imagine Nation Brewing. 5- 7 pm. This month’s topic is Urban and wildland forests in a changing climate. All welcome and details here. RSVP here or just come!

And save these dates: