By George Hamper

Thousands of homeowners throughout the state, including over 100 here in Downers Grove Township, decided to have solar panels installed on their homes over the past 18 months. There were 42 building permits for solar panels issued in Downers Grove, 24 in Darien, 17 in Westmont, 9 in Hinsdale, 8 in Burr Ridge, 7 in Clarendon Hills, 7 in Willowbrook, and one in Lemont.  About 3/4 of them have already been constructed.  So, why is this going on now?

The Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) created a new financial incentive to install solar panels that’s even better than the federal solar investment credit.

The new FEJA incentive is based on the amount of electricity that system is expected to produce over the first 15 years. It’ll probably turn out to be about 30 to 40% of the construction cost in most cases.  The federal income tax credit can cover another 26% in 2020.

From 2005 to 2019, a 30% federal income tax credit was available to help with the cost of installing solar panel systems.  The idea was to subsidizae solar power for a while so that it could reach economies of scale and become competitive with fossil fuels.  Guess what?  It worked!  The cost of installing a solar panel system is now about half of what it was 10 years ago. So, now it’s being phased out.  The federal tax credit goes down to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, 10% in 2022, and then it’ll be gone.

Buying the solar panels increases the value of the home and saves thousands over the 25-year life of the solar panels. But FIJA also provides a different way to save some money without making a big investment.  Homeowners can let the installer own the solar panels on their roof and just pay the installer a monthly fee.  That installer would get the FIJA incentive, and take it into consideration when negotiating a lease or power purchase agreement with the homeowner.  So, even without making a big investment, homeowners can start saving a few bucks every month. 

Homeowners will still pay ComEd $16 per month for a very important service.  Their solar panels will generate more electricity than needed in the long daylight hours of the summer, but nothing at night.  ComEd has already installed digital meters that can measure the extra electricity that the solar panels send out to the grid during the daytime, and how much is taken back at night. Installers can calculate number of solar panels needed to balance with the home’s electricity usage over a year’s time. 

Now, the “no action” alternative is usually the most expensive. Illinois residential electric bills average about $85/month.  That’s $1000/year, and $25,000 over the next 25 years.

Homeowers can use ComEd’s Solar Calculator to get a rough estimate the solar project costs and potential savings for their specific situation.