While the city of Morris, UMN Morris, and the WCROC have all been installing renewable energies, the residents of Morris have also been busy installing solar on their homes. Many residents have found creative ways to install solar, whether it is a small array or panel used to power a single appliance or battery, or an array that makes more energy than the home ever needs. In 2021 Morris was designated as a sol smart silver city which means it is easier than even to install solar if you are a resident of Morris. And resources like solar united neighbors can help direct people on how to start the process.
One of these residents is Bob Culbertson who recently installed a 10 kW array on his garage/workshop. The array is mounted at a relatively steep angle on the southwestern facing roof. Culbertson, who moved to Morris to be closer to family, thought that adding solar to his home was a no-brainer for a couple of reasons. One of the biggest reasons was that the solar ROI or return on investment is just before his anticipated retirement. That helps to reduce energy costs now and drives future energy costs down to $0, an asset in the eyes of Culbertson. “Actually is becomes a money maker. Having one less monthly, never-ending bill like this is a huge thing if you are retiring and are not sitting on a small or large fortune.” A form of passive income that will become more and more valuable as electrical prices and demand increase in the coming decades. Culbertson worked with solar installer Real Solar who made the process easier by offering great technical expertise. He admitted that the process has taken a long time, over a year of lead time. And that as inflation and supply chain bottlenecks continue that these times are ever increasing along with upfront capital needed to install the solar. While he recognizes that the process does require a bit of work to complete, he also said that there is still more room for the city to make the process easier. He also pointed out that the policies surrounding residential solar installation for Ottertail Power Co customers makes it harder to navigate the process. Ottertail sent him a lengthy document full of technical and hard to understand language. He suggested that we begin working on a solar cheat sheet of sorts specifically for members of the Morris community on the steps and people they will need to contact in order to install solar. With this in mind, I have added this as a high priority item to work on in 2023.
Another Morris resident and a professor of history at UMN Morris, Emily Bruce, has also installed solar on her home. Bruce, who lives in an older Victorian style home, decided to install solar on her detached garage. She was a part of the Solar United Neighbors purchasing Co Op that was formed in Morris a couple of years ago. The Co Op eventually went with a solar installer called Solar Farm.This allowed her to install a smaller 4.8 kW array that helps to offset the majority of her home electrical use. One of the biggest issues that she ran into was deciding what to do with the large trees that shade much of her property. While cutting down the trees to make the array more efficient was the main option, she chose to preserve the trees as they provide cooling shade to the home in warmer months. Although the trees in her yard shade the array at various point throughout the day, the array oftentimes still produces enough electricity to cover the electrical use in her home.
The final person I talked to about solar was Bennett Smith. Smith grew up in Stevens county and graduated from UMN Morris. He installed solar on his home in Morris last year. He was also a part of the solar united neighbors purchasing Co Op and worked with Solar Farm as the installers. One of the things he liked about Solar Farm was how they helped him to understand the different documents and agreements. To go solar, there is a lot of confusing paperwork involved. But Solar Farm was willing to sit down with Smith and explain the details to him in a way he could understand. His array is also about 5 kW and covers all of his electrical needs. In fact the past 6 month, Ottertail has paid him on his monthly bills rather than charging him anything. While the initial investment was a big one, Smith says he would still make the switch to solar if he could do it all over again. He even convinced his parents to install an 18.5 kW array on their farm outside of Donnelley.
Installing solar oftentimes isn’t always about being environmentally friendly or sustainable. For Bob Culbertson the return on investment lined up well with an upcoming retirement to provide a positive and passive future income that also makes his home more resilient. For Emily Bruce, it was about finding a way to lessen her impact on the planet and to help stabilize energy availability for her home. And for Bennett Smith it just seemed like a good time to make the investment. Whatever the reason was for initially pushing them to install solar, they all agree that the investment has been worth it.
This article was originally published in the Stevens County Times
My position with the City of Morris is funded through a grant from the ENRTF. To learn more, head to https://www.legacy.mn.gov/environment-natural-resources-trust-fund