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ASK EARTHA: Going Solar

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, my neighbor just installed solar panels on her house. I’ve been thinking about solar too, but don’t know where to start. Do you have any ideas?

As John Krasinski – you might know him as Jim from “The Office” – has weekly reminded his YouTube audience, despite the weirdness we’re all living through, there is still some good news in the world. And I came across yet another bit of good environmental news last week. For the first time ever, this year, the United States is projected to produce more electricity from renewable power than coal.

Outshining Coal

Why? Economics. Since 2010, the cost of building large wind farms has dropped over 40 percent. Solar has seen an 80 percent drop in costs. Meanwhile, coal plants are costly to operate, so many utilities are closing them down or using them only as a last resort. This year, the U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts that carbon emissions in our country will fall by 11 percent – the biggest decline in the past 70 years! And while this can be partially attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, the primary cause is the decline of coal-generated electricity.

This is all great news for the long-term stability of our global climate. In the United States, electric power is tied with transportation for generating the most carbon pollution each year. And in Summit County, energy use is responsible for over 60 percent of our community’s greenhouse gas emissions. So locally and nationally, renewable energy plays a vitally important role in addressing the climate crisis.

The rise of renewables isn’t just good news for the environment, it’s also great news for people who live near coal-fired power plants – populations at higher risk of respiratory disease due to the pollution created by these facilities. Healthier climate, healthier people? That’s a win-win.

Solarize Summit

Renewable energy offers us the opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, save on energy costs, and support vibrant communities. You can take part in this clean energy revolution by generating your own clean solar-powered electricity right at home. And this year, finding out if solar is right for you couldn’t be easier thanks to the Solarize Summit program.

Solarize Summit is a community-based, bulk-buy program, which means that increased participation results in greater discounts. Between April – June 2020, you can sign up for a free solar site assessment for your home or business. The goal for these assessments is to figure out how much solar you need to offset 100 percent of your annual electricity use and how much roof space you have available. You’ll also find out what it would cost. After the assessment, it’s up to you to figure out if those sleek solar panels are in your roof’s future. Of course, this can all be accomplished following safe physical distancing protocols.

At the end of this year’s program, Eagle County-based Active Energies Solar – the contractor for the Solarize program – will give discounts to everyone who installs solar this year. In addition, Breckenridge, Frisco, and Summit County government have a limited number of $1,500 incentives for participating residents or businesses in their jurisdictions.

In 2019, more than 70 residents participated in Solarize Summit. Together, everyone installed just over 500 kilowatts of solar – that’s the size of one of the community solar gardens in Breckenridge! Average systems ranged in cost from $7,500 – $50,000 (before rebates and text credits). However, most participants chose to finance their systems with no money out of pocket. And typically, the monthly on-bill credit you receive from Xcel Energy will offset the recurring financing costs. Not to mention, the federal solar tax credit allows you to deduct 26 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes.

So, if you’re looking to hop on board with solar energy, now is the time. Visit www.highcountryconservation.org or call 970-668-5703 to get started.

Going solar is not a question of why, but when. Eventually, we will all be living in a world powered by clean energy. It is simply not sustainable or economically viable to continue investing in fossil fuel-based energy. By taking advantage of that famous Colorado sunshine and committing to renewable energy at home or at work, you help us meet goals that protect the beautiful mountain community we call home.

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