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Omaha Magazine

Going Solar

May 27, 2022 02:55PM ● By Scott Stewart
hand running along solar panels

Photo via IStock

Matt Spielman didn’t want the sunlight hitting his Dundee home to go to waste.

So Spielman had solar panels installed on his detached garage to take advantage of the “thermonuclear reactor in the sky,” aiming to lessen his environmental footprint and hopefully make back his money in eight to nine years.  

  “My wife probably thinks I’m a big dork,” Speilman said. “I’ll come home, she’ll flip on the TV or she’ll make coffee, and I’ll say, ‘Hey, you know, the sun’s doing all this for you.’”

He added, “To me, this is cool.”

Speilman invested about $6,000 in solar panels and another $6,800 to bring his garage’s electrical wiring up to code and tunnel it to his home. As a result, his electric bill was slashed, and he’s drawing less power from the grid.

“It’s future-proofing,” he said. “It should, and hopefully will, pay off.”

Spielman recommended shopping around for solar installation contractors, and being wary of anyone promising something that sounds too good or too quick. He hired Dale Lueck of Great Plains Renewables, who offered him a long list of references and explained options instead of pushing a sale.

Lueck agreed, cautioning consumers against fly-by-night installers, as well as those who try to upsell customers solely for greater profit. If an installer wants to put panels on the north side of the house, walk away, he warned. (A south-facing orientation produces the best result; north is far less productive.)

Reputable companies can be found through OPPD and the Better Business Bureaus serving Nebraska. The organization Nebraskans for Solar also has a list of vendors to consider. 

Helen Deffenbacher, executive director of Nebraskans for Solar, said a list of suggested questions to ask an installer can be found on its website, nebraskansforsolar.org. For instance, “Is my home roof a good fit for solar?” 

“Homeowners can also learn about available financial incentives,” Deffenbacher said, including the federal investment tax credit of 26% for installing solar, which will decline to 22% in 2023.

A reputable contractor should evaluate a home’s needs and review a customer's energy bills up front, Lueck said, because every situation is unique. He said many of his customers aim to generate 80% to 85% of their home energy usage from solar, balancing their financial interests with emission reductions.

OPPD awards credits for electricity that home solar customers put on the grid, and it bills based on energy used. Customers can carry a balance of credits on their bill statements, and a check is cut annually to avoid accumulating an excessive number of unneeded credits.

Think of it like tax withholding: Ideally, the energy credits earned from OPPD during periods of overproduction will equal the energy credits spent during periods of underproduction.

Most people would rather earn credits against their OPPD bill worth 10 to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour than be paid about 4 cents for generating electricity in excess of what they actually use, Lueck said.

Lueck warned that electric bills won’t be zero, however, because there are monthly fees charged to all customers for access to the grid. Customers won’t be able to use the energy they generate during a power outage also, unless they install a battery system, which is expensive.

Often, the best approach is building a residential solar system in stages, Lueck said, and all of Great Plains’ systems are modular, so more panels and batteries can be added later.

Regardless of whether it’s a modest setup or a top-of-the-line battery array, adding solar will add resale value to one's home, Lueck said. After all, there are more potential buyers interested in reducing their carbon footprint and utility bills than there are solar detractors.

“There’s enough people out there nowadays in Nebraska that are going to look at [those  panels] and say, ‘I want that house,’” he said.  

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.