Solar Bulk Buy Program for Twin Cities Residents

We attended the solar workshop at Mathews Park on Monday night and found that solar heating and solar water heating — once a long-term dream — is now within reach. “Make Mine Solar” is a bulk purchase program for residents of Minneapolis, St. Paul and  first-ring suburbs.

Through this program you can get  two different hot water systems and one solar air heat system. The program explains the various rebates and tax credits available, as well as where you can get bank loans. There are several certified installers available to work with you. They will provide a list.

After state rebates (which end September 2011) and federal tax credits (which run through 2016), the cost is:

  • Solar water — approx $5200 to $5600
  • Solar air — approx $3100

The cost for a solar site assessment, which usually runs $250, is now $90 (for one technology) or $120 (for both). You may need a structural review of your home, which runs $500. There could be other costs, depending upon where your hot water system is located and whether you want cosmetic covering of exterior pipes.

We have a site assessment scheduled for Tuesday. We are interested in solar air heating for winter. This system is installed on a south-facing wall of a home. We will probably have to remove a tree but since winter heating costs are 50% of home energy use in Minnesota, it is definitely worth an assessment.

We are also having the roof reviewed for solar water and solar electricity generation. (Electricity isn’t included in the Make Mine Solar program, but we’ll look into it separately. There are a number of tax incentives for it and they extend to 2016.)

Heating water accounts for 20% of the typical family energy bill. A family of 4, using natural gas heat like we do, will recoup their cost is 18 or so years. It would have been great when we were a family of 7, but now there are only 2 of us (and occasional roommates) so if we choose to do this, we won’t be basing that decision on cost savings alone.

The workshop presenters focused on financial payback, but we are also thinking about environmental costs and the human costs that others are paying.

  • In Minnesota, electricity is produced from coal, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change.
  • While natural gas is “cleaner” to burn, getting it from the ground is environmentally hazardous. Entire communities are losing their supply of clean water and have been poisoned by benzene and other toxins from “fracking,” the process used to get natural gas from shale. (National Geographic had a great article explaining fracking)

So while we may need to use natural gas, we shouldn’t think of it as cheap. The real cost includes illness and deaths in communities where gas is extracted, the diversion of large amounts of precious fresh water, a resource that will become increasingly scarce in years to come, and the risk of massive contamination of aquifers in the northeastern U.S.

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