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Every day, the sun channels energy onto your roof. Solar panels let you capture some of that energy and use it to power your home, business, or electric car while lowering your electricity bill. By switching to solar power, you’ll reduce the carbon pollution behind climate change that threatens many birds, like the Northern Pygmy-Owl above, and their habitats.
What’s the catch? Installing rooftop solar takes some research, planning, and upfront costs. Those costs vary by state, and different states have different funding opportunities. Keep in mind that you will probably recoup those upfront costs within a decade with the money saved on your electricity bill—and you'll continue to save more money later.
Many homes and businesses in Washington state are powered by solar panels. There’s enough solar energy installed in Washington to power 10,000 homes (96 megawatts of energy) a year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
More than one-quarter of that solar energy was installed in 2016 alone, suggesting that the installation rate is accelerating. That’s not entirely surprising as studies have shown that solar is contagious—people are more likely to install solar panels after they see their neighbors do the same.
In 2016, $75 million was invested on solar installations in Washington, which supports more than 150 solar companies that employ more than 3,000 people.
Audubon is working with EnergySage and others to educate our members about solar energy as a solution to climate change. EnergySage provides solar information for consumers, and we point to their vendor-neutral online marketplace to help bird lovers compare solar options.
Here are some quick statistics on solar installations in Washington from the first half of 2017, courtesy of EnergySage:
51 – 99%: Percentage of home’s energy needs met by solar panels. In some states, utilities will purchase unused electricity from solar panel owners.
6 – 9.6 kilowatts: Total power output of a home installation
$18,912 – $29,609: The out-of-pocket cost to buy and install solar panels. This can be paid upfront or funded through a solar loan. Leasing panels is another option to avoid this initial cost.
$9,225 – $20,120: The amount of money saved over 20 years, after the out-of-pocket cost.
8 – 12.2 years: Time until owners break even on their investment
That out-of-pocket cost isn't cheap, even if you make that money back within a decade and save more money over time. Luckily, there are a variety of rebates and payment plans available so that you can afford solar panels today. "If you can pay your current utility bill, you can afford solar," according to EnergySage, the online solar marketplace.
If you want solar panels on your roof, you have two options: own the solar panels or rent them from a third-party owner. If you lease, you'll pay a monthly fee to use the solar panels and their electricity, and avoid the upfront cost.
If you do choose to purchase your panels, you can pay for them up-front or finance them with a solar loan, which allows you to pay them off over the course of several years. In either case, you can save extra money by taking advantage of rebates and incentives, which are offered to encourage solar panel installations. One of these is the Investment Tax Credit, a federal tax credit that helps people pay for solar projects—and lets you subtract 30 percent of the system's cost from your tax bill. Many states offer additional incentives, and Washington has more than 170 policies and financial incentives to help you pay for solar power.
Learn more about financing your solar panels from EnergySage.
Renters can't usually install solar panels on their roofs, but in some states they still have the option to use and invest in solar power and other renewable energy sources. Unfortunately, Washington is not one of those states that allows renters to choose their energy supplier. Learn more about energy choice from the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers.
Community solar programs, which share electricity among many households, are also available for people who can’t install solar panels on their roofs. Learn more about how community solar works from EnergySage.