Going solar is easier than ever … and cheaper
Each month, we feature a column on environmental issues submitted by IGov, an intergovernmental body composed of two representatives each from the village, public library, park district, township, and school districts 97 and 200.
‘How can we go solar as quickly as possible?” That’s a question many Illinois residents are asking. With recent growth of the industry, and new state laws, it’s easier and cheaper than ever! Even if you can’t install solar panels for whatever reason, you can still go solar. Here’s an overview, with contact information to pursue these ideas further.
The first step in going solar is to review your latest electric bill. In addition to your account number, you need to know two things:
a) How much electricity, measured in kWh, did you use over the past 12 months?
b) In the “Supply” section of your bill, is an alternative supplier listed? (If yes, the signup procedure is slightly more complex.) After you’ve reviewed your electric bill, either take a photo of both sides, or make an electronic copy.
Community solar is an important option for apartment dwellers, homeowners, and small businesses. You won’t need to do anything physical to your building, you won’t have any upfront costs, your monthly savings will be 10-20% of the supply portion of your electric bill, and you won’t need your landlord’s permission.
The simplest way to sign up is “one-stop shopping” through municipal programs. Both the villages of Oak Park and River Forest have community solar programs available through their websites: https://oakparksolar.mc2energyservices.com or www.vrf.us/CommunitySolar.
Finding additional information about community solar procedures and providers is not hard. A good way to learn about community solar providers is to look at the Citizens Utility Board website, https://www.citizensutilityboard.org/solar-in-the-community. The four companies listed below have been particularly active in Illinois community solar:
Rooftop solar is a good choice for homeowners, businesses and nonprofits who own buildings. For rooftop solar, there are over 30 certified and experienced solar installation contractors working in the Chicago area; you can find many of them listed on the Illinois Solar Association’s website at https://www.illinoissolar.org/FindAProfessional.
Another resource is Grow Solar Chicagoland. Since 2019, this nonprofit-led program has educated over 1,700 people with “Solar Power Hour” presentations. You can sign up for a presentation, and for Grow Solar Chicagoland’s free site assessment, by visiting their website, https://www.growsolar.org/chicagoland.
Getting quotes from solar installers is straightforward; many contractors give these over the web using Google Maps and other tools. It’s a good idea to ask other homeowners about their experiences with rooftop solar, to get multiple quotes, and to check references for each installer. It’s also important to remember that about 50% of US rooftops may not be appropriate for solar panel installation due to tree interference, insufficient area exposed to sunlight, or rooftop construction. If you install rooftop solar, typical “payback periods” are 7-10 years.
Residents should also be aware that an additional way to address climate change, and save money by lowering utility bills, is to improve the energy efficiency of your homes. At https://www.sustainoakpark.com, the village of Oak Park offers a free home energy assessment and opportunities to apply for grants up to $10,000 to cover all or part of the cost for improving the heating, air conditioning, and weatherization of homes.
For the long term, community solar and rooftop solar are only stepping stones to the goal of 100% renewable energy in Illinois. One key will be “utility scale” solar projects, which are beginning to be investigated by both utilities and municipalities in Illinois. However, since the timeline to complete a utility-scale solar plant is as long as six years, this solution is a long way away.