Minnesota Power cranks up rebates for solar energy installs

Minnesota Power announced Tuesday that it will pay up to 60 percent of new solar electrical systems for homeowners and businesses as part of a redoubled effort to encourage renewable energy.

Minnesota Power announced Tuesday that it will pay up to 60 percent of new solar electrical systems for homeowners and businesses as part of a redoubled effort to encourage renewable energy.

The Duluth-based utility is offering up to $4,750 per kilowatt in rebates to pay up to $20,000, or 60 percent, of the total cost of new solar electric systems.

Customers also would be eligible for the 30 percent federal tax credit for the remainder of the cost. And utilities will buy back any extra electricity your system produces but you don't use.

Minnesota Power's rebates start at $2,000 per kilowatt for all of its customers, residential or commercial customers. But another $1,000 is added if your home or business has already taken steps toward energy efficiency. Another $250 is added if you hire a certified solar installer. Nonprofits, which are not eligible for the tax credit, are eligible for another $500 rebate in an effort to encourage institutions to set examples for the community.

And there's even more money on the table. Minnesota Power is throwing in an extra $1,000 per kilowatt if the solar panels are made in Minnesota. There are currently two such makers of solar panels -- Silicon Energy in Mountain Iron and TenKsolar in Bloomington.


Combined, it's by far the most incentives ever offered for people adding solar electricity in the Northland.

"We've basically doubled what we used to offer because the program was underutilized," said Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power spokeswoman. "We're trying to bring down the up-front cost to customers to get them into solar.

"We think the Minnesota-made piece is a great part of this program because it supports not just renewable energy but local economic development," Rutledge said. "We have a premier solar manufacturer right here in our backyard."

Tina Koecher, Minnesota Power's manager of energy efficiency, said there are 87 solar electric systems already installed across the utility's service area in north-central and Northeastern Minnesota. They generate an average of about 3.7 kilowatts each. The national average is about 5.7.

The fact the region doesn't have more or larger systems isn't because the Northland isn't a good place for solar. We have as much sunshine as some southern regions. And cold, sunny days are actually better for producing electricity from sunlight than hot days, making the photovoltaic cells more efficient. Silicon Energy even designed its solar panels especially to shed snow.

"This is targeted to a certain customer who really wants to do something for energy efficiency. But cost has been the big impediment, we think, and we hope this helps address that," Koecher said. "This is just a small part of our effort to encourage renewable energy. But we hope it's a big push into solar."

Most new residential systems are about 3 kilowatts, Koecher said, and cost between $30,000 and $40,000 to buy and install. With $18,000 in rebates and $3,600 in federal tax credits, the effective cost of a $30,000 system drops to just $8,400.

Linus Olson, owner of Hermantown-based Electric Builders Inc., said solar hookups were a good part of his business until the economy soured. His company hooks up solar panel systems to a business or home's electrical system and the power grid.


"The economy really slowed it down. But if the power company can offer deals like this, that's really going to help," Olson said.


For more information on Minnesota Power's solar electric rebate program, contact Al Lian at (218) 355-2824 or , or go to .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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