If you’re looking to go solar, 2021 may be your last chance
Dozens of Portage County homeowners have taken advantage of a local co-op group and federal tax credits for savings on solar. But the federal incentive program is set to expire.
In a little over a year, a lucrative government subsidy for residential solar installations will expire. Many Portage County homeowners have had their eye on that deadline and raced to install panels on their homes in recent years, hoping to cash in on energy savings while the incentives are still on the table.
Albert Barber of Twin Lakes installed 21 solar panels on the roof of his home in 2019 for a cost of $11,000. He expects to break even after 10 years or less.
“I was motivated by the desire to reduce my dependence on fossil fuels and to reduce my electric bill in this era of energy uncertainty,” he told The Portager in an email. “I also have changed my electric supplier to a company that provides me with 100 percent renewable electric power from wind farms in the midwest. So any power I bring in from the grid is 100 percent renewable as is the power I consume from my rooftop panels.”
The cost would have been higher, but Barber got 30 percent of the cost credited on his taxes as part of a federal incentive program called the investment tax credit, or ITC. But 2019 was the last year the credit would be that high. This year, the credit is 26 percent, and next year it shrinks again to 22 percent. The ITC expires in 2022, but commercial properties can still get a 10 percent credit, which is permanent.
There are other ways to save. Both the state of Ohio and Portage County have programs that reduce borrowing rates for home improvements, including solar, by 3 percent for a loan up to $50,000.
Portage County Treasurer Brad Cromes said only one family had taken advantage of the local Home Improvement Program, which is facilitated through Hometown Bank, Portage Community Bank and Middlefield Banking Company.
“We’d welcome more,” he said.
Perhaps the surest way to save is by joining a community solar co-op. A national nonprofit called Solar United Neighbors helps groups of homeowners collectively negotiate installation rates through requests for proposal. Installers appreciate the bulk sales even if they sacrifice on the margins.
Kent resident Ryan Tipton, a local entrepreneur, joined the Portage County Solar Co-op and spent less than $8,000 on his solar panels and calculates he’ll arrive at his break-even point in 12.5 years.
“I caught wind of Portage County starting up a solar co-op a couple years back, and I went to the first informational meeting about it that was held at the Kent Free Library and it sounded like a really cool thing,” he said. The final price tag “was a lot less than I was thinking. The co-op helped in that way.”
Barber also participated: “I calculate that I saved about 15% by doing the Co-op,” he said.
Portage County’s 2018 co-op had 52 participants, according to Solar United Neighbors. Portager columnist Mary Lang wrote about that group and the issues surrounding solar interest in Portage County in September.
“My wife and I both are very environmentally conscious, so I think solar as a renewable energy just makes sense if you have those ideals and motivations,” Tipton said. “But the other half of it is obviously we were looking for a little bit of cost savings in terms of our monthly electric bill, which over time, once you’ve paid off the system, will definitely benefit in those ways.”
Although the cost of solar installations has decreased dramatically in recent years — averaging around $14,000 in Portage County, not including the tax credit — the price is still prohibitive for mass adoption.
The state’s corruption-tinged passage of HB 6, which dealt a blow to renewable energy standards in Ohio in favor of coal, suggests state-level residential solar incentives are not on lawmakers’ agenda. The U.S. Congress, too, has signaled this is not a priority.
So if you’re looking for a discount, 2021 may be your last chance.