Solar power is yet to catch on in North Dakota, the state that relies most heavily on wind power when it comes to embracing renewables.
Solar power is scarce in North Dakota, with only 1.1 megawatts of total solar capacity installed so far, according to the Energy Information Administration. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates the number to be somewhat higher, at 2 megawatts, which is equivalent to the electricity demand of fewer than 150 homes.
About $3 million has been invested in solar energy in the state, according to SEIA. In the next five years, SEIA expects North Dakota to take its first real steps in adopting solar energy, adding 508 megawatts in that period. Most of the state’s renewable energy capacity comes from wind power, which provides 4.3 GW of capacity to the grid.
State law requires utility companies to provide net metering to solar customers. Net metering consists of billing the customer for the excess production of solar energy that is sent to the grid.
In North Dakota, the rate is based on the “avoided cost” of utilities, a calculation based on location and time that usually results in a rate much lower than the retail rate paid by customers. For this reason, to avoid losing value, solar customers must size their systems to cover daytime power consumption or connect a battery to store solar power output for nighttime use.
Like many states, North Dakota offers an estate tax exemption for solar power, which means you won’t increase your property taxes even though the home’s assessed value increases. Like all states, North Dakota residents are eligible for a federal investment tax credit, which covers 30% of installed system costs. The tax credit has been extended for the next 10 years and now offers a direct payment option, making the benefit available to solar adopters who don’t have a huge tax appetite.
Residents of rural North Dakota may be interested in the Rural Energy America Program (REAP) grants from the United States Department of Agriculture. Available to agricultural producers with at least 50 percent of their gross income coming from agricultural operations, and small businesses in eligible rural areas with a population of less than 50,000, the program funds several renewable energy technologies, including solar.
REAP offers loan guarantees of up to 75% of total qualified project costs, grants of up to 40% of total qualified project costs, blended grant funding and loan guarantees of up to 75% of costs. The totals eligible for the project. REAP loans approved in fiscal year 2023 will have an 80% loan guarantee. Grants are capped at $1 million for renewables and $500,000 for energy efficiency.
A North Dakota tribal community has approved a $200,000 grant from the Tribal Accelerated Solar Fund to install a 50-kilowatt solar panel on the roof of the 6,000-square-foot main building at Noita Hidatsa Sahnish College.
The project was built in collaboration with Lightspring Solar and Native Brothers, with participation from the Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative. The impetus for the project was the University’s Sustainability and Environmental Sciences Program.
“Not only does this make sense from a business and energy standpoint for the university, but also from an education standpoint,” said Jennifer Jeniske-Hartmann, vice president of campus services.
The facility is just the beginning for North Dakota, said Wes Davis, Lightspring Solar project manager.
“The Biden administration’s economic stimulus package gave us an opportunity to build better infrastructure,” Davis said. “It opens the door for homeowners, contractors, and business owners to apply for these grants, as well as tribal governments.”
“I think this year, 2023, is going to be a huge leap forward for renewable energy in tribal states. And I just want to be a part of it and give back to my people.”
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