By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A change in state law has led to a major change in the way Minnesota rewards people who put solar panels on their homes. Instead of giving a rebate when you install, you get money for producing power.

It has some wondering if it’s still worth it to go solar.

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When Ralph Jacobsen from Innovative Power Systems took a look at Jason DeRusha’s home, he sees potential for the power of the sun.

As the cost of manufacturing solar panels has gone down, so has the need to provide such huge incentives.

Jacobsen said he’s already seen a lot more interest in solar panels.

“Both the law and the incentives have changed,” said Lee Gabler, of Xcel Energy.

Gabler runs Xcel’s renewable energy programs. State law requires Xcel to get 1.5 percent of its energy from solar by 2020.

“Can you get where you need to be without homeowners?” asked DeRusha.

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“We could, but part of the law requires that a percentage of that 1.5 percent come from systems that are 20 (kilowatts) or less,” Gabler said.

Over the past three years, Xcel Energy ran out of rebate money. A 10-kilowatt solar panel array used to get a $15,000 rebate. Now, homeowners get paid for what they produce — 8 cents per kilowatt hour, or about $10,000 over 10 years.

“I like the performance-based incentive too because it kinda keeps everybody honest, the contractor, the homeowner, everybody involved,” Jacobsen said.

So how many solar panel systems have been installed already?

“There’s roughly 1,000 in place over the past three years,” Gabler said. “We expect that number to more than double or triple over the next five years while this program is in place.”

To decide whether it makes sense for your home, an installer, like Jacobsen, would look at a satellite photo of the roof and he’d check the breaker panel. Then he’d actually get up on the roof and measure.

When you factor in federal tax credits, plus the annual Xcel solar rewards rebate, most homeowners pay off the panels in 5 to 10 years.

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“We’ve had a successful program,” Gabler said. “We’ve sold out every year. We expect that trend to continue.”

Jason DeRusha