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What you need to know before going solar 

Solar power is not energy efficiency—it is generating energy. Energy efficiency is finding ways to use less energy. Solar systems are sized based on a home’s energy needs. The larger the system, the higher the cost. Before installing solar, make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible—this may be less expensive than installing solar, or at least enable you to install a smaller solar system. Remember, solar energy is not “off the grid.” Unless you disconnect from your electric co-op, you will still receive a monthly bill. 

Affordability factors 

Consider overall out-of-pocket expenses. A solar system’s lifespan ranges from 25 to 30 years. As the solar panels degrade, they produce less energy and may need maintenance and repairs. Will you be able to afford to fix or replace it? 

Solar panels produce power only when the sun is shining. If you want power to your home at other times, like after dark, you need to be connected to your electric co-op or invest in a battery storage system—which comes at an additional cost. 

Consider your roof. It is more difficult and expensive to reroof a home with solar panels. The best orientation for solar panels is south facing for maximum sunlight production. A shaded roof helps cool your home in the summer, but reduces solar energy production if you have nearby trees. Installing solar panels also effectively shades your roof. 

Contact your electric co-op 

Solar contractors often work in several utility service territories and may not be familiar with your co-op’s offerings, rate structures and interconnection agreements. 

Before signing an agreement, check with your electric co-op for local information rather than relying on what the contractor says. As always, make sure you get multiple bids. 

Another option may be community-owned solar that many electric co-ops offer. You may be able to enjoy the benefits of solar without the responsibilities of ownership and maintenance. 

MIRANDA BOUTELLE writes on energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. 

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