Ever since they bought their first home 20 years ago, Ben and Peggy Schmidt of Missoula have had rooftop solar in mind. The Schmidts have always been environmentally conscious; they both have graduate degrees in environmental studies from the University of Montana, and today Ben works as an Air Quality Specialist for the county, and Peggy, who has an environmental education background, works as a preschool teacher. As Ben explains, “I think it’s important to take some personal responsibility to reduce our carbon emissions and do what we can to address a serious global issue.”
When they first looked into solar 20 years ago, they couldn’t afford it.
But the price of solar has dropped dramatically in recent years, and by the time Solarize Missoula was launched in 2015, says Ben, “it got to the point where it was within our price range and we could actually do something.”
Solarize Missoula was a program to significantly increase solar installations in Missoula by making it simpler and more affordable for homeowners to pursue solar. The program was organized by the Montana Renewable Energy Association in partnership with the Missoula Federal Credit Union, Climate Smart Missoula, the City of Missoula, and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
The Schmidts appreciated that Solarize Missoula made the process simple for them. They didn’t have to contact multiple solar companies for bids, since they knew they’d be guaranteed a good price (set by Solarize Missoula) and that they’d be working with one of four solar companies that had been vetted by the program.
After signing up for Solarize Missoula online, the Schmidts were contacted by Big Sky Solar and Wind, the company that was assigned to them by the program. A representative of Big Sky Solar and Wind then visited the home for a site evaluation. In addition to evaluating the solar potential of their roof, the representative talked with Ben and Peggy about their cost constraints and how much of their annual electricity use they were hoping to offset with solar.
After the site evaluation, Big Sky Solar and Wind sent a diagram and price quote for a proposed 3.12 kilowatt system, and the Schmidts signed a contract to have it installed. A crew from Big Sky Solar and Wind installed the system; a NorthWestern Energy technician installed the net meter; and in May 2016, the Schmidt solar installation was up and running.
Peggy says, “We were very pleased with the whole process, from site assessment through installation. It was a good example of good customer service.”
The total system cost was $10,296; after federal and state tax credits, that will drop to around $6,500. The Schmidts are members of the Missoula Federal Credit Union, and they financed their system with a solar loan from the credit union.
Ben and Peggy enjoy tracking the production of their solar panels, and they expect their system to offset between half and two-thirds of their annual electricity use. Ben says, “I like looking at the net meter to see what we’re putting back on the grid. When our system is producing the most, that’s when a lot of people in Missoula are using a lot of electricity, like hot summer days when people have the A/C on. So I know our extra solar electricity is being used here in our community.”