Fewer than .01 percent of the approximately 1 million solar panel installations in the United States have been been performed in the state of Idaho. Solarize the Valley, a program rolled out May 9 by the Snake River Alliance
, aims to change that.
"Idaho's way behind the curve," said SRA Interim Executive Director Wendy Wilson. "It's not because there's anything wrong with the sun here in Idaho."
Solarize Idaho's goal is to convince 50 home and business owners to conduct solar panel installations between Boise and Caldwell, generating 250 kilowatts of energy per year. It's a modest goal—there are tens of thousands of households and businesses spread across the Boise metropolitan statistical area—but Wilson said the benefits to consumers will become more apparent as the program gains momentum.
"Some people will be down to zero [electricity] consumption," she said.
The program consists of four workshops at which members of the public can learn about solarizing from business installer Site Based Energy
and residential installer Altenergy
, as well as receive free quotes, bids and pre-negotiated prices on materials and installation. SRA and its partners hope 50 homes and businesses will sign up for assessments by July 31 and commit to installations by Oct. 31.
Lisa Hecht, an engineer who is set to put solar panels on her home out of environmental concern, said her upfront cost for a 15-panel, 4.7 kw system was $15,300, but after a slew of state and federal tax deductions, the cost was reduced to between $9,200-$9,600. She expects to have recouped her investment in 9-12 years.
"I wanted to cut my carbon footprint by 50 percent," she said.
According to the program pricing sheet, a small, North End home with an average electric bill of $25 could install a 2-4.99 kw system for $7,000. After state and federal tax credits, the net cost of the system would be approximately $4,400 and, after 20 years, the average annual savings would be approximately $450. A 10-25 kw system installed on a larger home would have an upfront cost of $36,000 but after taxes would cost $24,000 and save the homeowner approximately $2,700 per year.
The state of Idaho has also established an energy loan program, giving 4 percent interest, five-year loans of up to $15,000 for homes and $100,000 for commercial businesses, but the position of a major player in solar energy—Idaho Power—is more ambiguous. Hecht said her solar panels have helped offset her energy consumption during the summer, when the pressure on Idaho Power to balance the electricity supply is highest. The utility has, however, made moves
that have reduced the amount of solar energy used in Idaho produced by large, commercial solar farms
. According to Wilson, Idaho Power has been "very supportive in general" of Solarize the Valley.
"They are pro-solar," she said, but noted that people whose solar panels pump electricity back into the power grid sometimes get paid by Idaho Power, rather than the other way around. "The devil's in the details."
The information sessions are set for Thursday, May 12, at NEON; Wednesday, May 25, at the Caldwell Public Library; Wednesday, June 8, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eagle; and Wednesday, June 22, at the Boise Co-op near the Village at Meridian. All workshops begin at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit the the Solarize the Valley website
As of the publication of this story, Lisa Hecht has signed with a contractor to install solar panels at her home. A previous version of this story indicated that she had already completed the installation.