Solar FAQs - Questions About Solar Energy

How do solar photovoltaic (PV) panels work?

Solar panels absorb the sun’s energy throughout the day and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. Most homes and businesses run on alternating current (AC) electricity, so the DC electricity is then passed through an inverter to convert it to usable AC electricity. At that point, you either use the electricity in your house or send it back to the electric grid. See how solar panels produce electricity for homes, businesses, and farms.

What are the financial benefits of solar energy?

Home and business owners can often realize a 10% ROI or better. Given their longevity, the systems will pay for themselves well within their lifetime while producing clean energy. As energy prices continue to rise, the return on investment will also improve.

What are the environmental benefits of solar energy?

Solar is one of the best ways to decrease your carbon footprint. The Midwest is powered largely with coal, so each kWh produced from a solar system essentially saves one pound of coal from being burned. A solar electric system will offset the energy to produce the modules in less than 3 years – that means truly clean energy for the remaining life of the system over the next 25+ years!

How do I know what size solar electric system I need?

Your best starting point is to determine how many kilowatt hours (kWhs) your home used in each of the previous 12 months. With this, we can compare expected monthly solar energy production to your electricity usage. Annual electricity usage total is also a good start. You’ll find your monthly kWh records via paper copies of your utility bills, a phone call to your utility provider, or through your online utility account.

What is the best location for a solar array?

A south-facing area that gets sun from approximately 9 am to 3 pm is best. Solar systems also work well even when facing west or east, if that’s your best option. We can mount the systems on the majority of roof types, including a variety of materials used on pitched and flat roofs. Systems can also be ground-mounted.

How long do the systems work and how durable are they?

Solar electric systems are designed last more than 25 years.  Many solar electric systems from the 1970s and 1980s are still functioning today. Solar electric systems need very little maintenance and have a long functioning life. The solar electric panels themselves have a 25-year production warranty and will sustain 1-inch hail impact at 50 mph.

For Home
Will it be harder to sell my house and will my property taxes increase?

No, solar tends to have a positive effect on home value. Recent studies have shown that solar homes sell faster and for more than equivalent homes without solar.

In Illinois, there is a special property tax assessment that has been created for homeowners who install solar. Article 10, Division 1 of the Illinois Property Tax Code says solar homeowners in Illinois may file for a special assessment of solar improvements to their property by filing a PTAX-330 property tax form with the local County Assessor’s office.  The special assessment or alternate valuation is the valuation that would apply to the property if the solar energy system had not been installed.

Will solar panels cause my roof to leak or deteriorate?

Rooftop solar installations have secure, leak-proof attachments or ballasted systems designed to withstand local wind forces.  Dispersed roof loads of solar energy systems are quite low, generally 2-3 pounds per square foot.  StraightUp Solar is also proud to offer an industry-leading 10-year workmanship warranty to give you peace of mind in your new clean energy investment.

What are my solar financing options?

StraightUp Solar offers a selection of secured and unsecured loans and financing options and can help guide you through the selection process.

Can I estimate my solar savings?

Yes! Use our solar savings calculator here.

Commercial & Industrial
Impact on Property Assessment

Illinois offers a special property tax assessment for solar. The alternative valuation will be the lesser of two values: the value of a conventional heating and cooling system, or the value of the solar energy system, whichever is less. Missouri’s property tax exemption for solar states that solar energy systems not held for resale are exempt from all state, local, and county property taxes.

What equipment vendors do you work with?

StraightUp Solar works with a variety of top-tier solar energy equipment vendors. A portion of our solar components are sourced through our Amicus Solar Cooperative partnership, which allows us to obtain high-quality components with cost savings achieved through quantity.

What are the mounting options for a solar PV array at our farm?

You will have several mounting options for a solar array at your farm. We install on pitched asphalt and metal roofs, flat roofs, even buildings with a curved roof such as those commonly found in agricultural settings. You may find that a ground mount is an attractive option, provided we can help you determine whether you have adequate ground space for a solar array.

How long is the installation process from concept to activation?

The typical solar project timeline from contract signature to solar energy production is generally between 2-4 months, depending on the complexity of interconnection with your local utility.

How do I protect my array from livestock?

Oftentimes we will locate your array in an area where livestock will not interact with it often, in order to reduce the risk of damage by livestock to your array.

How involved is the REAP application process?

The REAP grant application process does involve paperwork, which is easier to manage if your business’ paperwork is already in good order. However, you will need to locate and pull the required records. Allow at least one month preparation time to organize and gather your files, submit them to the grant writer, and allow time for processing.

How long should it take to see a return on investment?

Many agricultural operations will have their entire investment paid back within 5 years.

Government & Non-profit
What tax benefits are we eligible for?

Tax-exempt organizations are not eligible to use solar tax benefits such as the 30% Federal Tax Credit or MACRS depreciation.

How do tax-exempt entities typically fund a solar project?

Tax-exempt entities may indirectly realize the savings of solar tax benefits by partnering with a for-profit third party who can purchase the solar equipment and perform the installation on behalf of your organization. Learn more about third-party financing for tax-exempt organizations by visiting our Government/Nonprofit Financing section.

Are there other ways to finance a project?

Aside from a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or Lease through StraightUp Solar and our financing partner, your tax-exempt organization could also form a single-purpose business entity, usually in the form of an LLC. Tax benefits for the solar array, chiefly the 30% Federal Tax Credit and MACRS depreciation, would trickle down to the members of the LLC. Filing for an LLC will require legal expertise and approximately $1,000 in filing fees.

How can I teach my community or my students about solar energy?

StraightUp Solar is dedicated to fulfilling our CLEARE values, which include “Educate the Solar Lesson.” Please contact us to arrange an educational presentation for your organization or school.

Community Solar
What is community solar and how is this different from rooftop solar?

A community “shared” solar array is a single array that provides solar energy to multiple subscribers. Community solar is contrasted to the typical rooftop solar array, in which one solar array provides solar energy to a single energy user. Virtual net metering is the billing arrangement that allows energy users to subscribe to community shared solar arrays and receive bill credits.

Is StraightUp Solar building community solar projects in my community?

The Illinois Power Agency will hold a lottery for the the allocation of community solar incentives in to specific community solar development sites in January 2019. StraightUp Solar has submitted applications for ShineMine sites in Belleville, DeSoto, Godfrey, Heyworth and Marissa. Homeowners and businesses can sign up for a Community Solar Subscription Letter of Intent (LOI) right now to reserve a subscription to a portion of one of these ShineMines.

Who can subscribe to a ShineMine community solar array?

Ameren Illinois electric utility customers, including those who purchase their electricity supply through a third-party or retail electric supplier (RES), may subscribe to a ShineMine. 200 Watts (or 0.2 KW) is the minimum subscription amount.

One limitation is that no single subscriber may subscribe to more than 40% of a community solar project in Illinois, however a single subscriber may subscribe to multiple community solar arrays.

What are ShineMine subscribers actually subscribing to at the ShineMine community solar array?

A certain amount of solar capacity, rated in kilowatts (KW) will be assigned to each ShineMine subscriber based on the percent of their annual electric supply that they wish to subscribe to or to “offset” with community solar. The energy produced by your subscription’s share of KWs will be measured in kilowatt hours (KWH).

What is Virtual Net Metering and how does it work in Illinois?

Virtual Net Metering allows electricity produced (in KWHs) by a community solar array, located anywhere in the same utility service territory as your electric meter, to be credited towards the amount of KWHs that you used – although the KWH credits will only apply to the electric supply charges, not the delivery charges, taxes, or fees charged by the utility.

How do ShineMine community solar subscriptions work?

The energy production of each ShineMine will be metered and divided among the subscribers based on the amount of KWs included in individual subscription contracts. The ShineMine KWHs are credited to your Ameren IL electric bill through a policy called Virtual Net Metering.

Here is a basic example of how a ShineMine subscription will affect an Ameren IL electric bill:

Household Electric Usage in the month of September = 800 KWH
ShineMine Energy Production in September = 500 KWH

September Electric Bill with ShineMine Subscription
300 KWH @ Non-ShineMine Electric Supply Rate
800 KWH @ Delivery Rate
800 KWH @ Taxes & Fees

500 KWH @ ShineMine Subscription Rate (approximately 10% lower than non-ShineMine supply rate)

What are the cost savings to a ShineMine subscriber?

Exact ShineMine Subscription KWH Rates, and therefore projected electric supply cost savings from ShineMine subscriptions, will not be known until ShineMine project financials and subscription details are finalized in Spring 2019.

Based on national trends and research, we expect the cost savings to be about 10% below current electric supply rates.

What happens if my portion of the ShineMine produces more (or less) than I use?

For DS-1 and DS-2 delivery service rate customers (most homes and some businesses), if your share of the ShineMine produces more KWHs than you use in a given month, the excess KWHs will be carried forward as a credit towards the next month’s electric supply KWHs.

The excess KWH credits produced by your ShineMine subscription can be carried forward and applied to the electric supply portion of your bill every month until the annual “true up” date when the accrued KWH credits are reset to zero. This true-up occurs in April each year.

For electric customers with other delivery service rates, there is no carry-forward of excess KWH credits.

What is the timeline for the ShineMine community solar subscription program?

In Spring of 2019, Illinois Community Solar-specific incentives will be accounted for and individual ShineMine project financials will be finalized. At this point, formal ShineMine subscription details will also be finalized and subscription contracts will become available.

By the end of 2019, we expect to have the first ShineMine community solar arrays installed, which will then be energized and ready to supply electricity to ShineMine subscribers.

What happens to my community solar subscription if I move or have to cancel?

Subscriptions to community shared solar arrays will be both transferable and portable within the same utility service territory. You are able to cancel your subscription at any time.

What About Community Solar Arrays in Missouri?

Despite the clear advantages, billing and and regulatory complications can pose a significant challenge and so adoption in Missouri has been slow. There are just a handful of community solar arrays around the state.  These have been sponsored by either a rural electric coop or a municipal electric utility.  Ameren MO is planning one, but is not planning to start construction until the project is fully subscribed.

The good news is that there have been legislative proposals in Missouri that are designed to overcome some of the regulatory obstacles.   Surveys show public support for community arrays in Missouri is strong.  

You can do your part by calling your legislator and let him/her know that you want the choice to go solar even if there’s no room on  your property. 

Solar Group Buy
Can a solar group buy be leveraged as a fundraiser for our organization?

Yes, a solar group buy program can be used to raise funds for your organization. A common model for fundraising with a solar group buy is to pre-designate a donation amount for each kilowatt (KW) of solar that is installed within the group buy program. Learn more about our fundraising opportunities for Nonprofits.

Is there a minimum level of participation for our community to realize savings?

A solar group buy will allow your community to save on solar with no minimum for participation. We’d like your solar group buy to have a certain goal in mind, and will work with your organization to set specific reward levels to encourage community participation. Generally, we scale these goals according to the size of your community.  

What is the time commitment for our community to participate in a group buy?

Solar group buys can run for as much or as little time as your community would prefer and time commitment to adequately promote the program depends on the size and range of your community group. For a mid-size town, we’d recommend a 4 month program with educational meetings every other week for the first 3 months.

Does running a solar group buy program cost our organization/community money?

Depending on the exact design of the program, administration and promotion may be funded by a grant or by a fee paid by the installation partner selected by your organization.

Will our organization be liable for issues that may arise?

Your organization will not be liable for installation quality issues. StraightUp Solar is a fully insured and bonded local business and each installation entails a contract between the specific home or business owner and our company.

Solar For All
What is the Solar For All Program?

The Solar for All program is a special aspect of the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act passed in December 2016. The Solar for All program is a job training and solar deployment initiative intended to bring the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy to income-qualified communities throughout Illinois.

Where can I find more information about the Illinois Solar for All program?

The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, the Sierra Club, and many more organizations throughout the state are currently leading the development of Solar for All program details and outreach to local communities. More can be found on the Solar for All program at IL Clean Jobs Coalition fact sheet.

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