Your 2019 guide to getting solar panels for your home in North Dakota
This page is a complete guide to the complicated and sometimes confusing process of installing solar panels on your North Dakota home. Since there's a lot to consider, we've separated the page into sections to help you find what you are looking for. If you find this page useful, please share it with someone who might also find it interesting!
** What's new for 2019 **
North Dakota has a little of everything that make the northern plains great: wide open spaces, phenomenal archeological digs, Painted Canyon, and Native American and pioneer historic sites. Oh, it also has ranches, wineries, and the Maah Daah Hey trail – with 97 miles of some of the best single track biking around. All of that history and outdoor excitement needs clean solar power to preserve it for generations to come. How has the North Dakota legislature done with promoting renewable energy? Spoiler alert: not well. Let’s get right into it.
Questions? Our network of solar experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page. You can get discounted on-grid pricing as low as $4,000/kW! This is paired with the North Dakota solar incentives you see below.
The Solar Strategy section is focused on the 3 ways of paying for solar in North Dakota, so you can decide which is best for you. We've created a tool that asks you a few questions and recommends whether you should pursue a solar lease, loan, or outright purchase. Then, we provide detailed analysis of how each works.
The Policy Information section contains all our latest research on the rules set by lawmakers and the Public Utilities Commission, which determine how easy it is to go solar in North Dakota. These policies and rules govern everything from renewable energy mandates to interconnection, and have a huge effect on the viability of solar.
Finally, the Solar Incentives section includes information about money-back rebates and grants, tax credits, and tax exemptions for going solar in North Dakota.
Click any of the boxes below to go to that section of the page, or scroll down to read the page in order.
|Your North Dakota Solar Strategy|
|North Dakota Solar Policy Information|
|North Dakota Solar Incentives|
|Your North Dakota Solar Strategy|
|Comparing Solar Investment Options|
|Paying Cash for Solar in North Dakota|
|Solar Loans in North Dakota|
|Solar PPAs in North Dakota|
|Solar Purchase Payback Time in North Dakota|
|North Dakota Solar Policy Information|
|Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)|
|RPS Solar Carve-Out|
Your Solar Strategy in North Dakota
Figuring out the best way to go solar in North Dakota can be a little daunting. From loans and leases to power-purchase agreements, there are a lot of options out there. To help you pick the one that might be best, we've created the handy decision tool below.
We'll ask you a few simple questions about you and your home. Once you're done, we'll recommend a good option. Further down this page, we provide cost estimates and example return-on-investment calculations for all the various options:
How to pay for solar panels in North Dakota
The chart above shows the 25-year returns for an investment in solar whether you choose to purchase a system with cash or pay over time with a loan. Because North Dakota has a voluntary RPS and low electricity prices, the state isn't quite financially right for solar leasing yet, so we included two different sizes of solar loans—one for people with a lot of equity (or credit), and one for people with just a little.
What North Dakota does have is a good deal of sun—as much as Florida, on an average annual basis! But let's be honest here, folks: as you can see from the chart, it takes 17 years for solar to pay itself back. Now, that really isn't as bad as it sounds, because by the end of the warranty life of your panels, you'll still end up ahead. But buying solar requires a big up-front investment.
If you're strapped for cash, but you still want to go solar in NoDak, the best option is to take a solar loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). You'll put $0 down and end up with a big, big tax break at the end of the first year. Your loan payments over 15 years will be more than your electric bill savings, but you'll still come out thousands of dollars ahead by the end of our 25-year estimate, with the potential to continue the savings long after our calculations end.
Read on to find out more about each option for solar in the Roughrider State!
Option 1: Paying cash for solar
Paying up front used to be the only way to get panels on your roof, and it's still the option that allows you the most control. Furthermore, an outright purchase returns the most money over time, because you own the system from day one and reap all the benefits—including a Federal solar tax credit of 30% of the costs, which combined with electricity savings will bring your first-year costs way down.
In our example, you put down $20,000, but by the end of year 1, incentives and energy savings will erase a bunch of it. Over 25 years, your system will have produced nearly $9,500 in income.
Here’s how the numbers work for a North Dakota solar purchase of a 5-kW rooftop solar system:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $20,000. Don’t worry–with tax credits and energy savings, it'll be a lot cheaper after year 1.
- Since the Feds calculate their incentive based on actual out of pocket costs, no state rebates means a bigger tax credit. You'll get 30% of the $20,000—that's $6,000—back next year as a tax credit, bringing your 1-year cost down to $14,000. Note: you can take the credit over two years if you don't owe $6,000 in Federal taxes this year.
- Next, subtract your first-year energy savings of $663, bringing the final cost after the first year to just $13,337. That's just two-thirds of the original price! Those savings will continue for the life of your system, and will only get bigger over time, considering that utility companies raise their rates 3.5% annually on average.
- By the time your system pays itself back in year 17, you’ll be seeing over $1,000 per year in savings until the end of your system’s life.
- When all is said and done, our 25-year estimate shows a total net profit of $9,472, with an internal rate of return of 5%. That's a solid investment, if you have the cash to put down.
- On top of those returns, your home's value just increased by just more than $17,000, too (your expected electricity savings over 20 years)!
- And speaking of doing good for the environment... your system will create some green for the earth by not using electricity from fossil-fuels. In fact, the energy you’re not using has the carbon equivalent of planting 110 trees a year, every year your solar power system is humming.
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in North Dakota. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar panel system, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 2: Using a loan to pay for solar
Usually, this is where we tell you that taking a loan for solar panels is a no-brainer, because it means investing in an income-generating asset. And technically, that's true in North Dakota, too. It's just not a sure-thing like it is in other states, because North Dakota has some of the lowest electricity prices in the nation, and the savings aren't as great.
Okay, on to the important stuff:
As you can see from the chart above, you'll start out with a big windfall, because with a loan, you're not putting any money down, and you get the Federal 30% tax credit for the whole installed cost of your system. Then, over the 15-year repayment term of your loan, you'll be spending more than you're saving in electricity costs, to the tune of about $1,000 per year until you pay the loan off.
But from there, it's up-up-up! After your loan is paid off, you'll be saving over $1,000 per year in electricity costs from your fully-owned solar panels. You'll end up $2,844 to the good after 25 years, which is okay for an investment where you put nothing down!
A solar purchase like this will make sense for you if the following is true about you and your current situation:
- You can qualify for a solar loan or home-equity line of credit (HELOC) for $20,000 with a fixed rate of 4% or lower and a 15-year repayment period.
- You have an appetite for making a little money with a long-term investment, while also producing benefits for the environment.
Here’s how the numbers pencil out for a North Dakota solar purchase with a loan:
- Installing a typical 5-kW solar system should start at about $20,000. That's how big your loan will need to be to cover it.
- The electricity you'll save in the first year of operation would have cost $663, but your loan payments will total $1,775, for a difference of $1,112, or about $93 per month.
- That's not so bad when you consider your tax savings for the year will be $6,000! You'll come out just about $4,900 ahead in year 1, which should help ease the burden of loan payments for a few years, at least.
- When your loan’s paid off after year 15, you’ll start to see about $1,000 per year in savings until the end of your system’s life.
- For our 25-year estimate, you'll see pretty a small return of $2,844 after all the payments. That's a decent amount of money for a zero-down investment!
- Finally, the environmental benefits cannot be overstated. Operating your system will take as much carbon out of the air as planting 110 trees every year!
Keep in mind, the numbers above are based on an average home in North Dakota. If you're ready for a custom quote for a solar loan, our network of experts are on call to assist you. Simply sign up for personalized assistance on our special solar deals page.
Option 3: Buying the electricity, not the panels with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)
North Dakota does not offer solar Power Purchase Agreements or leases. Perhaps it would be a good idea to contact a solar advocacy organization and ask them to fight for solar in your state!
North Dakota Solar Policy Information
Ever wonder why solar seems to be everywhere in some states, but not in others? We did too.
State legislatures and public utilities commissions can enact rules to make solar power accessible for everyone. Favorable rules explain why some of the cloudiest states—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, are doing so well with solar, and yet some of those with the most natural solar resources—like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia—are doing so poorly.
Below is important information about the public policy, rules, and economic reasons that affect your ability to go solar here in North Dakota:
10% by 2015 (voluntary)
A Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires utilities in the state to eventually source at least a certain percentage of their electricity from clean, renewable sources like solar panels.
North Dakota has set an objective of 10% renewable energy by 2015. While that would ordinarily be an adequate first step for an RPS, North Dakota’s RPS is entirely voluntary. There are no penalties or other sanctions for utility companies that do not meet the 10% goal.
Unfortunately, the pattern we’ve seen elsewhere is repeated in North Dakota: a voluntary RPS simply is not enough to spark meaningful incentives for solar power. This voluntary status makes an otherwise respectable RPS seem pretty weak in comparison. Additionally, the program lacks a solar carve out. More on that next.
North Dakota’s RPS is critical to strong renewable energy policy. Utility companies aren't really all that gung-ho about you producing your own power. After all, it costs them money when you use less of their electricity. They also don’t naturally want to give you big payments for energy you're feeding back into the grid. The main reason the utilities are aiding your transition to lower electric bills and offering you incentives to put solar on your roof is because the state forces them via compliance fees. For North Dakota’s solar scene to really take off, they’ll need to drop the “voluntary” compliance and crack down on utilities if they don’t step up their solar game.
What's an RPS? Your state legislature paves the way for strong solar energy incentives to flourish by setting standards for renewable energy generation within their territories. Those standards are called the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). If utility companies do not meet these standards, they must pay alternative compliance fees directly to the state. Many utilities then determine the best ways to source their energy from renewable sources that are less expensive than this fee.
An RPS is a mandate that says "Hey utilities! Y'all now have to make a certain percentage of your electricity from renewable sources. If not, you'll have to pay us huge fines." The consequences are good, because utilities usually try to meet these RPS standards by creating solar power incentives for you, the homeowner. Read more about Renewable Portfolio Standards.
RPS solar carve out
As mentioned above, North Dakota’s RPS lacks a solar carve out, or specified targets for solar production. If the RPS contained specific carve-outs for clean and efficient technologies like solar panels, or mandates for the environmentally necessary increases in distributed generation, you’d see even stronger incentives for residential solar power.
What's a solar set aside? A solar set aside guarantees a specific portion of the overall renewable energy mix generated comes from the sun. For those states with progressive standards, high alternative compliance payments, and clear solar carve outs, the faster those areas become ripe for solar.
Some states have higher alternative compliance fees than others, and some states have more progressive alternative energy standards and deadlines than others do.
For instance, New Jersey has an overall RPS of 22.5% by the year 2021. That requires local utilities to source 22.5% of their energy mix from renewable sources by the year 2021. Pretty good. However, New Jersey also has a specific solar set aside of 4.1% by 2028. That’s the type of firm commitment which really gets the industry rolling forward. No wonder why New Jersey is one of the hottest solar markets right now!
North Dakota Electricity Prices
North Dakotans pay an average of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. That’s definitely on the lower end of the spectrum and well below the national average of 13 cents/kWh. We know you like paying less now, but the long term costs of cheap electricity are through the roof. All that cheap electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels -- tons and tons of earth-killing fossil fuels. When the astronomical environmental costs start to mount, monthly electricity bills are inevitably going to rise as well. When that happens you’re going to feel pretty darn smart for making the early switch to producing your own clean, efficient solar power.
Why are electricity prices so important? Because that is what solar power is directly competing against. The cost to produce power with solar is relatively constant (of course how much sun hits your area has an effect), so if you are paying $0.40 per watt for power, then you make FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the guy or girl paying $0.10 per watt electricity.
The caveat here is that if the $0.10 per watt person has a HUGE rebate, they may be better off than the $0.40 per watt person. Because of that, states without any renewable standards tend to be heavily reliant on cheap coal for electricity, and also have very low electricity prices. When electricity prices are artificially low, that hinders the ability of solar energy to achieve meaningful payback in the state.
North Dakota Net Metering
Statewide with caveats
Net Metering requires your utility to monitor how much energy your solar power system produces and how much energy you actually consume to make sure you get credit for the surplus.
North Dakota requires investor-owned utilities to offer net metering to all customers; electric cooperates and municipal utilities are exempt from the net metering regulation. For customers of investor-owned utilities, the electric company is required to cut you a check for all surplus energy at the utility’s avoided-cost rate. All systems up to 100kW in size are eligible for net metering.
Overall we were forced to give net metering here a low grade because of its limited scope (excluding cooperatives and municipal utilities), limited system size allowances (only up to 100kW, excluding commercial customers), and lack of payments at the full retail rate. That said, if you are lucky enough to be a customer of an investor-owned utility who only needs a residential-sized system, you’re still getting a pretty sweet deal.
What is net metering? Net metering is the billing arrangement where you can sell excess electricity back to your utility for equal the amount you are charged to consume it. The more customer friendly net metering policies, the higher the grade.
The grade here specifically reflects individual solar system capacity, caps on program capacity limits, restrictions on “rollover” of kWh from one month to the next (yep just like cell phone minutes), metering issues (like charges for new meters), Renewable Energy Credit (REC) ownership, eligible customers and technology (the more renewables the better), being able to aggregate meters across the property for net metering, and safe harbor provisions to protect customers from solar tariff changes.
North Dakota Interconnection Rules
While the net metering program is pretty strong for residential customers of investor-owned utilities, even for those lucky folks there are no interconnection standards in place to regulate the process of getting connected to the grid. Generally a strong net metering program comes with statewide standards limiting the utilities’ discretion over interconnection standards and associated fees, potential insurance requirements, and redundant external disconnect switches. Because North Dakota lacks statewide standards, those costs and requirements will vary from utility to utility. Don’t worry, though. The expert installers we partner with can answer all of those questions for you and then some.
Interconnection rules are a little technical, but they basically allow you to “plug in” to the electric grid with solar panels on your roof. The more complex, out of date, or nonsensical the state rules are for plugging into the grid, the lower the grade.
Specifically, the grade reflects what technologies are eligible, individual system capacity, removing interconnection process complexity for smaller systems, interconnection timelines and charges, engineering charges, prohibiting the requirement of unnecessary external disconnects, certification, spot interconnection vs. wide area interconnection, technical screens, friendliness of legalese, insurance requirements, dispute resolution, and rule coverage.
Solar Incentives in North Dakota
Next to high electricity prices and net metering, solar incentives have traditionally been the most important factor for whether home solar power makes financial sense in a state. In the past, some states with otherwise lousy policy had tremendous incentives that drove down the up-front cost of going solar so much that homeowners could save oodles of money even without net metering or a good RPS.
These days, the big incentive most people can get is the Federal Solar Tax Credit that earns you 30% of your costs back after just 1 year. State incentives play less of a role than in the past, but some really good ones are still out there, ready to help homeowners go solar and save money before you know it.
Let's see how North Dakota measures up:
North Dakota Solar Power Rebates
North Dakota currently lacks any sort of solar rebate programs. If the RPS set mandatory levels of renewable energy production, we can guarantee the utility companies would offer incentives to help you make the switch to solar. How do we know? It’s worked everywhere that a real RPS has been implemented. Get on it, North Dakota!
How do solar rebates work? Similar to getting a rebate card from your local big box store for a dishwasher purchase, state legislatures also provide rebates for solar panel purchases to spur on investment and create new jobs. If you purchase the solar panel system yourself, you qualify for this free cash, which many times is a lump payment back to you. Some solar installers like to take this amount directly off the total installed price, and they'll handle the paperwork for you to make things a lot less complex.
The availability of state and utility rebates were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The better the rebates, the higher the grade.
North Dakota Solar Power Tax Credits
The legislature isn’t picking up the slack here either; there are no tax credits for installing a solar power system here.
Luckily, you will still benefit from the 30% Federal Solar Tax Credit. There's no cap on the federal tax credit and fortunately for North Dakota, having no state rebate to deduct means a larger tax credit coming your way. Sample calculations follow below -- keep scrolling!
About state solar tax credits: State tax credits are not technically free money. However, they are 'credits' and not 'deductions' which means that if you have the tax appetite to take advantage of them, then they can be a 1-to-1 dollar amount off your taxes instead of a fraction of the cost of the system. So that means they can be an important factor to consider. In certain circumstances, state tax credits can provide a very powerful incentive for people to go solar.
(Keep in mind, we are not tax professionals and give no tax advice so please consult a professional before acting on anything we say related to taxes)
The availability of personal tax credits for solar energy were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the tax credit amount, the higher the grade.
Solar Power Performance Payments
North Dakota lacks any utility solar power performance payments. Again, this can be blamed on the voluntary RPS. Mandatory RPS = better solar incentives.
Explanation of performance payments: Performance payments represent a big chunk of the financial rationale for going solar, and in many instances they make your decision a wise one. For certain states, if you’ve got solar panels on your roof, not only will you be cutting your electric bill down to size, but you'll be getting paid additional cash from your utility company. Pretty awesome, huh? Not only are you generating electricity for yourself, freezing your own popsicles with sun, and feeling like you’re doing something smart for your children or any of the other 4 reasons people go solar, but you are getting PAID!
Utility companies are paying people with solar panels on their roofs because their states say they have to, otherwise they will pay a fee. Therefore, the payment amount to homeowners is typically a little bit less than the amount they would be billed for by the state. For states with these alternative compliance fees, Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) exchanges have popped up. In the above chart, we outlined an estimate of yearly payments a homeowner might expect from the utility company for the SREC credits from their solar energy system.
Expected SREC payments were calculated by using the latest trade values in the SRECtrade database. The availability of feed-in tariffs were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. The higher the expected monthly payments, the higher the grade.
We've got a great article if you like to read more about what SRECs are and how to earn them.
Property Tax Exemption
100% for 5 years
While you won’t save money on your state income taxes, you will save loads of cash with a 100% exemption from paying property tax increases for five years, despite the fact that you’ll be adding roughly 20 times your annual electricity bill savings to your property value. In the case of our 5kW example below, that adds up to about $13,728 (20 times your annual electricity savings of $686).
About solar property tax exemptions: Property tax exemption status is a pretty big factor when putting together your investment considerations. Some argue that solar power adds approximately 20 times your annual electricity bill savings (if you own the system and are not leasing). Other studies seem to indicate a home price premium about equal to solar panel cost, minus any incentives like the federal solar tax credit.
For many average-sized solar power systems on a house, that can mean adding $20,000 to your home value. And if you don't believe us, believe the bean counters: Many banks and solar financing companies now offer traditional style equity-based home loans for installing solar. An additional $20,000 in property tax basis in many states amounts to a big chunk of change owed back to the state. However, many states have complete exemptions from added taxes when you install solar on your home!
The availability of a property tax exemption for solar energy was sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Grades in this category are basically all-or-nothing. Either you got it or you don't. Thankfully, many states have "got it.".
Sales Tax Exemption
Lawmakers almost went two for two here, but unfortunately the current sales tax exemption only applies to systems above 100 kilowatts (kW) (i.e. commercial and industrial systems only). We don’t know what they were thinking down in Bismarck when they failed to include small systems in the exemption, but it’s an easy fix that could save you 5% up front.
What's the deal with solar power sales tax exemptions? When states give you a sales tax break on solar, we notice. You should too. State sales tax exemption status for the purchase of solar energy systems were sourced from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Sales tax exemptions, if present, were all 100%. A handful of states are completely exempt from sales tax regardless, and therefore received ‘A’ grades by default (OR, DE, MT, AK, and NH).
The consensus on North Dakota solar power rebates and incentives
Most people think about cold, often snowy plains when they think about North Dakota. And it sure does get cold here. Most of them don’t realize we get lots of sun here as well. As much sun as most parts of Florida in fact. Unfortunately that tremendous solar power potential is being squandered. The lack of state or utility backed solar power incentives is keeping costs high (compared to solar-friendly states) for homeowners like you to make the switch, and keeping payback time frames slow. Even without any incentives, solar power is an excellent investment, but the legislature should be harnessing our natural solar resources to help bring down initial costs. That property tax exemption is a good first step, but it’s only a baby step. The bottom line is that without any mandatory renewables standards, and without any state incentives in place, we can’t give North Dakota anything but an “F” for solar policy.
Again, if you are confused about how these numbers work and would like some personalized assistance or a quote of your own, simply connect with our network of solar experts. They’ll help sort out all the pricing, get you access to special deals, and they’re super friendly to boot!