By Pauleen Le

ST. LOUIS PARK, MINN. (WCCO) — Friday is Earth Day, a time to celebrate and raise awareness on climate change and how to combat it.

The world’s freest source of power is the sun and solar power continues to grow in popularity.

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The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy reports solar jobs have seen a 167% increase in the last decade and 250,000 people now work in solar.

But even with how popular it’s becoming, is solar power any more affordable for the average homeowner?

In St. Louis Park, more businesses and homes are turning to solar and that’s thanks in part to some financial help from the city to help make it more affordable for them to make the switch.

The city set a goal to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2030. To do that, leaders brought their Solar Sundown cost share program back for a second year, offering both businesses and residents a 4-6% one-time reimbursement for installing solar panels.

Last year was the first year for the program and 43 residents and five businesses took part, which more than doubled the amount of solar power in the city.

“A lot of residents and businesses like that they’re more energy independent,” said Annie Pottorff, the Sustainability Specialist for the city of St. Louis Park. “They have more control over their energy bills as well.”

Solar Sundown is only open to St. Louis Park residents, but people are also eligible for a federal investment tax credit for solar panels which is 26% cash back reimbursement.

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Depending on the number of panels, Pottorff said the average resident in St. Louis Park is spending $27,000 to install solar panels on a home.

Esther Maurani and her husband spent $40,000 for the amount of panels they wanted to add to their St. Louis Park house, but they admit they weren’t sure if they wanted to take out another home loan to be able to afford the price tag.

Maurani said her electric bill at the time was about $200-$250 a month and after crunching the numbers and taking advantage of a number of incentive programs, including Solar Sundown and the federal investment tax credit, they discovered their monthly payments to switch to solar would be the same if not less, so they decided to go for it.

“So we’ve made money back,” Maurani said. “So we made money beyond what we would have been paying in our electricity bill and we’re using our own electricity that we’re creating. So, my kids say all the time, ‘It’s OK, if we turn on all the lights because we’re making our own electricity,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s OK, you can still turn it off because then we get more back.’”

Pottorff said the average resident is recouping about half of their investment in the first year – in large part because of the financial incentives available – and they’ll break even in the next 10-12 years.

She also said now might be the best time to switch to solar because plenty of cities have their own programs to offer reimbursements for the panels and the federal investment tax credit of 26% will be decreasing next year and in the year after, it will be gone.

For more information on St. Louis Park’s Solar Sundown cost share program, click here.

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For more information about solar energy and common questions about installing solar panels, click here.

Pauleen Le