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Louisville solar program building momentum 

Solar Panels on the Mall St. Matthews on December 12, 2019.
Solar Panels on the Mall St. Matthews on December 12, 2019.

The planet is warming due to our reliance on fossil fuels, but a combination of market forces and local policy decisions is making it easier than ever for Louisville residents to put solar on their homes and businesses. 

From February through June the city is partnering with the Louisville Sustainability Council and the region’s largest solar installer to offer discounted rates for solar installation. 

Similar to other solar campaigns in Cincinnati and Lexington, Solar Over Louisville leverages collective buying power to obtain discounted wholesale rates for homeowners and small businesses.

“We intend to make going solar easy for residents and businesses and we do that by not only allowing people to band together to access a wholesale rate, but we also vet the solar installer,” said Sumedha Rao, Louisville Metro sustainability specialist.

City officials say around 650 people have signed up to learn more about the program and 19 people have signed a contract. 

The program aligns with the city’s commitment to achieve 100% clean energy community-wide by 2040 to combat the worst impacts of climate change.

Louisville Gas and Electric has a natural monopoly and is the sole utility for Louisville and much of the surrounding area, serving more than 1.3 million ratepayers. Coal-fired power plants generate the vast majority of the utility’s electricity. 

LG&E has made commitments to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but also reported it does not plan to retire its last coal-fired power plant until 2066. The utility also has its own program allowing ratepayers access to green energy, but they have to pay additional fees for it. 

No cheaper form of electricity

The International Energy Agency calls solar the cheapest form of electricity in history, but it still costs the average homeowner around $15,000 for an eight-kilowatt system. That’s a generalization: the number can vary quite a bit from rooftop to rooftop, but it's a good starting point for understanding the return on investment.

The city’s partner, Solar Energy Solutions, has agreed to offer participants 12% to 19% discounts depending on the size of the installation, said Jeffrey Nazarko, vice president of sales and marketing. 

On top of that, the federal government offers a 26% tax credit, he said.  

Solar customers will see immediate savings on their electricity bills, but to see a return on the investment, it will take around 8 to 12 years. The average lifespan of a system lasts 25 years. A solar set-up also typically increases a home’s value by about 4%. 

In the last decade, solar installations have moved from a niche market for people looking to produce clean energy to a practical home investment, Nazarko said.  

“Customers get the benefit of green energy production as well as a return on their investment,” he said. 

How the program works 

The Solar Over Louisville program is available for homeowners and small businesses in Louisville and 15 surrounding counties in Indiana and Kentucky. 

Specialists with Louisville Metro’s program pre-screen applicants using satellite imagery to determine the viability of their property. 

Then Solar Energy Solutions takes a look and develops a system that best fits the customers needs. Construction usually takes about two to three days, Nazarko said. 

People interested in the program have until June 30 to sign up

Louisville Metro is also offering a limited number of grants to assist qualified homeowners who would not otherwise be able to afford the program. 

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.