Experts say solar energy’s future is bright

OWANECO — While you don’t see as many solar panels in the Illinois countryside as in some regions, the number of people choosing solar energy is growing says the founder of a Central Illinois company.

“There has been an upswing. I anticipate we are just getting started with the growth market,” says Michelle Knox, owner of WindSolarUSA Inc.

She says she founded her company in 2008 to assist people in adopting alternative energies.

Figures from the Illinois Energy and Recycling Office seem to support her observations.

“This year, I estimate we have provided over 175 rebates for solar PV (Photovoltaic devices that generate electricity directly from the sun) with a total capacity of 2.1 MW,” notes Wayne Hartel, energy program specialist with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“Last year, there were 160 PV projects for about 1.1 MW of capacity.”

Knox of Owaneco in Christian County helps farmers and others estimate what the cost per kilowatt would be for installation when they are considering a project. She also helps them find incentives.

For example, Tim Ridgely of Parkersburg, hired her to help fill out forms for a USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant for the second stage of the solar system on his farm.

Ridgely estimates it costs about $2,000 for the grant-writing service, and he received about $26,000 for the project.

When she started her business, Knox thought wind energy would be the biggest part of it, but as prices for solar panels and inverters have decreased, interest has gone up.

Knox encourages farmers and rural residents to check with their electricity providers because they also may offer incentives to help with the cost of installing solar systems.