Busting solar energy misconceptions | The Gazette

Solar panels at Olin Consolidated School District in Olin on Thursday, July 14, 2016.(Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Solar is an affordable and effective way of delivering electricity to schools while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Sacajawea Middle School in Bozeman, Mont., was able to save “28 tons (56,000 lbs.) of CO2 over a 30 Month period,” and they are just a single school.

However, misconceptions and misinformation about solar exist online and by word-of-mouth. We hope to challenge these perceptions by providing additional information and hopefully clearing up preconceived notions about solar energy.

Myth 1: Taxpayers will pay more for solar energy.

When purchasing solar panels, there are three different routes. The most commonly preferred option is direct ownership. With this plan, the customer purchases the solar panels in full. The energy produced is consumed in full by the customer. No savings can occur until the cost for panels matches and exceeds utility bill savings.

The second option is a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). With a PPA, a developer will install the solar panels at little to no cost and sell the energy back to the buyer at a fixed price. The most beneficial aspect of this option is not footing the system’s upfront cost.

The final option is a solar lease, charging a fixed monthly rate to use the solar equipment. In this structure, there is an option of buying the system at fair market value, moving the customer to the direct ownership option.

With these purchase plans, schools may save money and support educational programs and staffing. Electricity savings can help curtail increases in community taxes or lead to lower taxes. Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand refers to solar as “the good work the government can do at the local level to save taxpayer money and help fight climate change.”

Myth 2: The panels become outdated

Let’s use a car analogy. A car does not last forever; routine maintenance is inevitable. But you eventually pay it off over time, and the car will continue to provide its value. Solar panels last 25 — 30 years. They will require maintenance, but they will provide 25 years of environmentally friendly energy and a potential positive financial impact to the owner. Solar panel technology will continue to become more efficient. However, the sooner the panels are purchased, the sooner potential savings can begin.

Myth 3: Solar power can only work in warmer climates

There is a misconception that solar panels only work in warm climates. Solar panels use sunlight to create energy, not heat, so even in the winter, as long as the sun shines, solar panels will be producing energy. According to Revision Energy, “the photovoltaic (PV) technology in solar panels is actually able to more efficiently convert sunlight to power when they are colder.” When there is snow on the ground, “the panels are also able to catch the sunlight that reflects off the snow, adding to what the panels themselves could receive throughout the day.”

Solar can be a beneficial option for the buyer, the community and the environment. With the common myths busted, it’s clear solar panels have more significant benefits than drawbacks in the long run. The next question is, will your school go solar?

Vivian Tracey, Jonah Hodge, Kole Hartley and Blaze Krug are Iowa BIG and Linn-Mar students.