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Should Montana Residents Install Solar Panels? Here's What You Need to Know

Montana is known for its sunshine, even in the winter. If you live in Montana, you can harness that sun to lower your power bills.

Billings, Montana, at sunset.
Montana gets a lot of sun.
peeterv/Getty Images

In 2021, Montana ranked in the top 10 for states with the largest share of electricity from renewable sources, but most comes from hydropower. At the same time, Montana receives an average of 4.93 peak sun hours. The daily recommendation for solar panels is four hours of direct sunlight, so it's surprising only 1% of the state's electricity comes from solar energy. 

Installing solar panels establishes less dependence on the traditional energy grid, which is especially helpful during power outages and can lead to lower energy bills. Solar power is more sustainable because it is a renewable energy source and does not emit harmful pollutants. Significant decreases in solar prices and increases in solar incentives make now the perfect time to consider solar panels for your home. 

Here's what you need to know if you're considering solar panels in the Treasure State.

Montana solar panel costs

The total cost of a solar system is determined by the brand of equipment, labor costs and other hardware. Solar prices have dropped 52% in the last 10 years due to a decrease in the cost of hardware, including the panels, inverters and other components. 

The solar system size, or the number of solar panels, is another major factor in the total cost. The size you need is specific to your home and energy needs. A certified installer should help design a solar system to meet your energy and budget needs. Additionally, expect to pay for installation, roof repairs and optional equipment like solar batteries.

There is insufficient data to determine average Montana-specific solar system costs, but the average size, total cost and price per watt in the US based on Lawrence Berkeley National Lab data can give you an idea.

Average solar panel cost in the US

System size (kW) Price per watt Total cost
Nationwide 8.6 kW $3.67 $31,558

Solar financing options for Montana residents

There are several payment options to make solar affordable for any budget. The interest-free and tax-eligible option is making a cash purchase but the upfront costs are a substantial investment. Solar loans are available for those who want to take advantage of solar incentives without paying upfront. If you're interested in paying a monthly fee with little maintenance requirements or ownership, consider a solar lease or power purchase agreement where you either pay for the equipment (via lease) or for the energy consumed (via power purchase agreement).

Advertiser Disclosure: SaveOnEnergy, owned by CNET's parent company Red Ventures, can help you find the right energy fit for your home. The SaveOnEnergy marketplace helps you search, compare, sign up and save on the right energy fit for your home -- all for free. If you're interested in solar, answer a few questions to get an exact price quote from our solar advisers.

Montana solar panel incentives and rebates

Even with the price of solar decreasing, adding solar panels to your home is still a hefty investment. Montana offers state incentives to make solar more affordable such as property tax exemptions. The federal solar tax credit, known as the residential clean energy credit, could cover up to 30% of the solar system costs. 

The following table shows a few solar incentives available to you in Montana. 

Montana solar incentives

Program Description
Net metering Residents can receive electricity bill credits in exchange for excess energy generated from their solar system for sizes up to 50 kW.
Renewable energy systems exemption Solar systems are exempt from property taxes for up to $20,000 over 10 years.
Residential clean energy credit The federal tax credit for 30% of the cost of a solar system is applied as a credit on your next tax return. Solar systems installed from the beginning of 2022 through 2032 are eligible. The credit decreases to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034.

Solar panel companies in Montana

Montana has 31 solar companies to choose from, including 20 installers. Some companies complete the installation with an in-house team but others only complete the sales and hire an installer. We recommend receiving multiple quotes from several companies before making a final decision. Consider asking about price matching if your preferred company's quote is higher than a competitor.  

We researched some of the top solar companies in Montana. Here are a few picks to consider.

Big Sky Solar

Locally owned and operated in Missoula, Big Sky Solar's certified installers and electricians will analyze your home, compare current energy consumption and solar potential then provide a proposal. What stands out the most about Big Sky is its accessible and transparent pricing. Unlike other solar companies we've come across, Big Sky lists its pricing on its website without having to make a call or fill out forms. Big Sky also installs popular name-brand solar batteries from Tesla, Panasonic and Enphase. A 25-year warranty backs the company's products and work.

OnSite Energy

Located in Bozeman, OnSite Energy installs solar systems across the state, including projects for residents, businesses, farms and more. The company says it advocates for more solar energy systems in the state and 1% of the cost for each solar system is donated to a partnered conservation organization of the customer's choice. OnSite Energy installs a variety of well-known brands to fit your needs, including REC Alpha panels and the Tesla Powerwall solar battery.

SBS Solar

Since 2014, SBS Solar has provided solar services throughout western Montana. The company installs a variety of solar panel mounting options, including rooftop, pole and ground-mounted solar. SBS Solar says it will provide a free solar estimate and site analysis or you can send in a copy of your utility bill for an estimate. The company's website offers an extensive photo and video library to see past examples of their work. 

SunPower Solar

SunPower Solar is a national solar company that has been operating for over 35 years. SunPower provides high-quality solar panels with an efficiency rating of 22.8%, and its panels are backed by a 25-year complete system warranty. The company's process starts with a free consultation, which can take place virtually. SunPower states that a solar specialist will work with you to design your system and find solar incentives to reduce the cost. SunPower offers tools like the mySunPower app to monitor your system's performance and be notified of any needed repairs.

Installation factors to consider

Is installing solar panels a good idea for you? Consider these five things first. 

  • Are you part of an HOA? HOAs and other neighborhood associations in Montana may have rules or terms regarding solar panels and placement. Review the rules and contact your association with questions. 
  • Does your insurance cover solar panels? Review your current homeowner's insurance policy. Contact your agent if the policy does not include solar panels. 
  • Do you rent your home? If you are prohibited from making changes to the property, community solar programs might be the best fit for you. Explore community solar for a subscription-style solar service for renters
  • Is your roof shaded? The location of your home and roof may affect solar panel efficiency. Constantly shaded roofs may result in less energy generation. Panels work best with at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day.
  • What is your current roof condition? Before solar panel installation, old or damaged roofs will likely require maintenance and repairs. Repair may result in additional costs.
  • How long do you plan to stay in your home? If you plan to move soon, you will likely leave your solar panels behind because they are difficult to remove and reinstall. The Department of Energy says solar panels can increase the value of your home by $15,000. If you're not in your home long enough to see a return on investment, the increased home value may not be worth the upfront cost.

Montana solar power FAQs

Are solar panels worth it in Montana?

Yes, solar panels are an excellent investment if you're interested in powering your home with renewable energy. Montana has several incentives available for residents to help make choosing solar more affordable. In addition, the federal clean energy credit can cover up to 30% of the cost of a solar system. 

How do I find a solar installer?

In addition to the solar companies in this article, review CNET's top picks for other potential installer options. The Montana Renewable Energy Association provides a directory of solar installers. We recommend receiving multiple quotes from various companies to find the best fit for you.

Will I need a solar battery?

It depends. You will need a solar battery if you wish to have an off-grid solar system or power during an outage. If you plan to stay connected to the electricity grid, you may not need a solar battery. Installing a solar system and adding a battery later is an option but may involve additional costs for installation.