Top 5 Best Solar Companies in Minnesota (2023 Reviews)
By Alora Rands /
The average solar energy system in Minnesota pays for itself in 12 years and continues to save money after that. Lifetime solar savings total over $17,500, on average, and that’s after the panels pay for themselves.
As you might imagine, based on the average lifetime savings of converting to solar in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, most residents find solar panels well worth the investment.
Although the typical cost of a solar power system in MN totals approximately $22,720, local solar incentives and rebate programs help make the conversion more affordable. Other perks like net metering help boost long-term savings associated with solar adoption.
In this guide, we’ll explain the process of converting to solar from start to finish, and we’ll provide some tips along the way. You can use the links below to jump to a specific section if you’re familiar with some parts of the process already.
Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels
Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider
Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract
Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day
Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels
Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO)
Since solar equipment is so expensive in your state — at least initially — there are a few things we recommend looking into before you start the process of getting quotes and pushing for conversion. We’ll explain these in the following sections to help get you started in the right direction.
Solar is a great option for most Minnesotans, but it’s not equally as beneficial for all residents. As such, it’s critical that you do some research in the early stages to assess your property’s solar viability and your expected return on investment (ROI).
We suggest starting by using our solar calculator to determine the appropriate number of panels for your home. The average solar system size in your state is 8 kilowatts (kW), and how your system compares can give you some insight into how good of a fit your home is for solar.
If your estimated solar array size is much bigger than this, then there could be some factor that’s limiting your home solar production and, in turn, the value of your system over time. Things like tree coverage and roof direction are often the culprits, but the weather in your area can make a difference as well.
Minnesota homeowners see an average of 195 days of sunshine every year.1 While this is slightly below the national average, it’s still plenty to make solar conversion worthwhile.
Panels generate less electricity in cloudy weather, so if you live in a city that sees more cloudy days per year, like Duluth or International Falls — averaging in the high 170s for sunny days annually — then your production and energy savings will both be lower.
Net metering — also called net energy metering or NEM for short — is an even more crucial factor to consider. NEM is a policy that lets you overproduce for your home’s needs with your panels and earn energy credits for excess energy sent to the grid. You can use your credits to pay down future utility bills if you ever consume more than you generate.
Thankfully, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission mandates NEM for all utility companies, so you’re guaranteed to have access to the program. However, there is no rate set for the credits you receive. If you’re offered the full retail rate for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) you export, you’ll end up saving more over time than if you’re offered a below-retail rate.
The rate you have access to depends on your electric company, your system size and more. However, the rate for residential solar customers with solar power systems is set at the avoided-cost rate for public utility companies.2 This includes Xcel Energy, Allete and Minnesota Power.
Having a standard rate means you don’t have to worry much about who provides your power.
The table below should help visualize how valuable solar conversion is in Minnesota as compared to the rest of the country.
|Minnesota State Average||United States National Average|
|Solar Power System Size Required||8 kW||9 kW|
|Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment||$2.84||$2.66|
|Average Total System Cost Before Federal Solar Income Tax Credit||$22,720||$23,940|
|Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value||$6,816||$7,182|
|Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit||$15,904||$16,758|
|Average Panel Payback Period||12 years||12 years|
|Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar||$17, 546||$22,379|
Now that you understand how valuable solar adoption will be for your specific home, you can start thinking about how you’re going to pay for your system. With the average cost of solar panels in MN hovering around $22,720 before incentives and solar rebate programs, your payment options might be limited based on your budget.
We suggest using our solar calculator to get an estimate of the system size you need first. You can multiply the size in watts by $2.84, which is the typical cost per watt in the state. That should give you a good idea of where your total price will fall.
This number may intimidate you, but remember that your panels are expected to pay for themselves over time. The benefits you enjoy from going solar will outweigh the financial burden over time in most cases.
Next, you can figure out your budget for solar investment and choose from the solar panel financing options below.
If you’re looking for the highest long-term savings, we recommend you optimize for a shorter panel payback period. The longer it takes your panels to pay for themselves, the fewer savings you’ll see over time.
You can also opt into a community solar garden to offset your energy needs with clean energy without having to install panels at all. This is a good way to support the renewable energy movement without having to pay upfront for panels.
After you’ve decided on your preferred payment method, you can start looking for a solar company in your area that accepts that option. We’ll explain what to look for in an installation company and what to expect after you provide your contact information in the following sections.
At this point, you can start researching the different solar contractors in Minnesota to see which ones fit into your budget. This is a time-consuming process, and it’s made more challenging by the fact that there are nearly 60 installers in the state, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).3
We recommend looking for companies that meet the following criteria, as this will help ensure you have a positive experience:
Since doing research on all of the solar contractors in the state is unrealistic, we’ll include a list of some of the most reliable solar companies in MN below:
After you send your contact information to a solar system installation company, a sales representative will contact you to gather some additional information. They will ask you about appliances and heating and cooling equipment that uses electricity in your home, and they’ll request that you send a recent electric bill.
The rep should schedule an in-person inspection to assess your property’s sun exposure and check your roof for wear and age. Once the inspection is completed, your solar project will move to the design team. The team will choose a panel brand that suits your home and come up with a system layout that fits on your roof.
After the design is completed, your sales rep will send you a solar proposal, which is a formal solar quote that includes all the information you’ll need about your proposed system. Below are some of the things you should look for in the proposal:
Getting to the point of receiving a solar proposal from just one company can take weeks, but we recommend you go through the process with two or three companies, at a minimum. Having multiple quotes gives you the ability to compare and choose the best value.
Additionally, some companies offer price matching, so you could end up saving if one of the providers prices out a system that’s more affordable than another’s.
When you’re working on getting quotes for your system, we recommend including any add-on products you think you might want or need in the future. You only get to file for the federal tax credit once, so including all of the equipment you want when you file is a great way to save money.
Below are some of the most common add-on products opted for by Minnesota homeowners:
When you’ve decided which installer you’re going to move forward with, your next step will be signing the contract they send for service. In the sections below, we’ll include some information on how to ensure you get good terms and what to expect after you sign.
One of the first things we recommend you look for in your solar contract is the warranty information. Warranties protect your solar electric system from damages and malfunctions and help ensure that your panels continue to produce energy for years to come.
Solar warranties come in three different options, and signing a contract that includes all three is in your best interest:
After you sign your solar contract, the wait time for installation and connection to the grid in Minnesota averages between three and six months. There are some things that can cause delays, which are unpredictable. These include the following:
Some areas in Minnesota see annual snowfall that’s well above average, sometimes reaching 70 inches per year.5 Since snow and ice can make rooftop solar system installation dangerous, weather can cause short delays as well.
All municipalities in Minnesota require building permits, electrical permits or both to be opened before installation can begin.
Your installer should handle the entire permitting process for you, from filing for the permits and providing necessary documents to the building department to scheduling the final inspection to close them out. However, you will be responsible for paying the permit application fees, which vary based on where you live.
For example, the City of Minneapolis charges permit fees based on the cost of construction.6 Given the average cost of solar panels in the area, the permit will total around $504. The City of Saint Paul charges $138 for the permits for solar panel systems under 20 kW, which most St. Paul systems will be.7
The City of Duluth has one of the lowest permit fees in the state, with a flat fee of $65.38 for the permit, provided no additional construction is needed for installation.8
You can always check your solar proposal for fee information, as it should be included. If it’s not, you can ask your solar contractor for the price or contact your local building department for information.
In addition to filing for solar permits before installation begins, your contractor should also file for interconnection. Interconnection is the term that describes how the electric grid and your system interact and pass energy back and forth. As you might guess, interconnection is required for grid-tied systems and access to net metering.
As is the case with permits, your installer should file the interconnection application for you. The process can vary based on your electric company, as can the fee for the application. You will be responsible for paying the application fee if there is one.
Xcel Energy charges $100 for the application, and it uses an online portal for convenience.9 The website mentions that wait times for application processing and inspections average between one and three months.10
Minnesota Power — which is owned by Allete — charges $300 for the application, plus $100 for a processing fee.11
It’s important to note that enrolling in interconnection is absolutely worth the money and the time it adds to your installation timeline. This policy gives you access to NEM, which is one of the most valuable incentives, and it will end up saving you quite a lot of money on energy bills that more than makes up for the application fees and wait times.
After all permits and applications are in order, your installer will get your installation day scheduled. One of the first questions most customers ask at this point is, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?”
Your solar technicians will need access to your home throughout the installation process to connect your panels and inverters to your electrical panel. You should plan on having an adult home all day during the installation to provide access and monitor the installation. Solar installations take between four and eight hours, on average, in Minnesota, so you should plan on being home all day.
There’s a chance your installer will schedule the inspection with your utility provider on the installation day as well to save time. If this is the case, you can expect the solar inspection to add about a half hour to your timeline.
After your panels are installed, your solar contractor will reach out to your building department to schedule the final inspection, which is required to close out your solar permits. This often seems like an unnecessary step, but open permits can lead to violations and issues with property resale, so you definitely want to have all permits closed out.
Inspections from your building department don’t cost anything, but if you miss a scheduled inspection, you might be charged for a re-inspection. Some inspectors will just do an exterior inspection, but others will require that you provide interior access, especially if you have solar batteries or EV chargers installed inside your garage.
After the inspection is completed, your permits will be closed, and you’ll receive a certificate of occupancy (CO) for your system.
At this point, you’ll be on your own to make sure your system continues to function properly. Some panel manufacturers, including SunPower and Tesla, offer free solar monitoring apps that you can use to keep track of your system’s performance. You can ask your installer if you have access to monitoring software.
The last official step is getting permission to operate (PTO) from your utility provider, which requires an in-person inspection. If your installer scheduled this on your installation day, then your system should already be up and running. If not, the inspection is the last step.
Once that’s done, your installer can turn on your system, and your panels will start producing power for your home. If your installer didn’t show you the emergency shut-off switch near your electric meter, you should ask them to do so at this time. You can also ask about solar monitoring software if it hasn’t been discussed already.
The only additional information you need to have handy is the emergency contact number for your power provider. In the event of an emergency, you should dial 911 and then call the emergency number for your utility company. We’ll list the numbers for two of the largest providers in Minnesota below:
Finally, you can sit back, relax and start watching your clean energy savings accrue! Your energy bills should be significantly lower, your carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels will be reduced and you’ll have energy independence, meaning you’re not beholden to ever-rising electricity rates.
We should also mention that you’ll likely see an ROI even if you sell your Minnesota home after converting. Most residents see their home values increase after solar conversion, so you’ll benefit from a financial perspective no matter what you do.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most common questions we see about the solar conversion process from Minnesota homeowners.
Unfortunately, yes. Minnesota has solar easement laws in place, which guarantees that you have access to the sunlight that hits your property. However, it has not established solar rights laws. Homeowners associations (HOAs) can prohibit solar PV panels in Minnesota.
Minnesota is a good place to convert to renewable energy and solar power, in particular. The state sees close to the average number of sunny days per year, so the energy production potential is excellent.
The state has decent incentive programs in place as well, which help reduce the cost of solar arrays and boost long-term savings. These include a property tax exemption, a sales tax exemption, net energy metering and local incentives, like Xcel’s Solar*Rewards Program.
The average resident will see their Minnesota solar panels pay for themselves in around 12 years and then save an additional $17,500+, making solar well worth the investment in MN.
Most PV panels will continue producing energy for around 25 years. Minnesota sees some extreme weather, but nothing that puts panels at severe risk of damage or reduced lifespan. Most residents should see 25 to 30 years of useful life out of their clean energy systems.
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