Montana Solar Panel Buyers Guide [Installation & Efficiency 2022]

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide to Montana solar panels:

  • The typical cost of solar panels and solar equipment in MT
  • Panel efficiency in the area and how much electricity your solar panel system will generate
  • The solar benefits afforded by the state and federal governments
Find Local Solar Quotes
Get Quotes
Connect with approved solar installers in your area. Zero obligation.

How to Get Solar Panels in Montana

The first step in the process of going solar is to request a free quote from an installer in your area. Your sales representative will likely need to see a recent electric bill to determine your energy needs and will inspect your home to check for roof shading and dimensions.

The rep will then provide your installation cost estimate and system design. At this point, you’ll likely discuss financing options with the salesperson. Depending on your budget, you can consider a cash purchase, a solar loan, a solar lease, or a power purchase agreement (PPA). Finally, permits will be pulled and your system will be installed.

Converting to solar energy in MT is somewhat expensive. However, most residents find that their solar electric systems offset energy bills and provide an average lifetime savings of over $15,000 so solar is considered a great investment in Big Sky Country.

Badge icon

OnSite Energy

Outstanding Social Impact

Local Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Excellent reputation
  • Great warranty coverage
  • Offers products from leading manufacturers
  • Certified B Corp

Cons

  • No leases or PPAs
  • Slightly expensive
Badge icon

SBS Solar

Outstanding Local Installer

Local Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Outstanding customer service
  • Full-service home energy solutions
  • Great warranty coverage

Cons

  • No leases or PPAs
  • Limited brands of solar equipment available
Badge icon

Solar IPS

Solar Veteran

Regional Service

EcoWatch rating

Average cost

Pros

  • Offers products from leading manufacturers
  • Great warranty coverage
  • Many financing options

Cons

  • Some reported communication issues
  • Slightly limited service offerings

EcoWatch Preferred Partners

Here is a list of preferred partners in this area.

VIEW MORE

What Is the Price of Solar Panel Installation in Montana?

The average cost per watt for solar equipment in MT is $2.54, which is much cheaper than the U.S. average. Residents usually need around a 9 kilowatt (kW) system to offset their energy consumption, which comes out to right around $16,000 after the federal tax credit is taken.

Since your panels save you money on your utility bills each month, your energy savings are expected to exceed the cost of your system eventually. This is referred to as the panel payback period. The average payback period in the U.S. is 12 years, and the average in MT is just over that at 13 years.

For a more in-depth cost analysis for your area, you can check out our solar system cost guide in MT.

The Best Solar Panel Brands Available in Montana

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Montana ranks 43rd in the country when it comes to solar conversions.1 However, this doesn’t mean the local solar industry isn’t booming. In fact, most major panel manufacturers serve Montana, as do nearly 20 statewide installation companies.

Montana doesn’t experience nearly as much sunny weather as most other states, so choosing high-efficiency panel brands like SunPower is usually the best course of action. Below, we’ll include a brief list of some of the more popular and appropriate equipment brands used in MT.

  • SunPower (now Maxeon)
  • Panasonic
  • Tesla
  • LG (phasing out of the solar equipment industry soon)
  • Qcells
  • REC
  • Canadian Solar
  • Mission Solar
  • Trina Solar

EcoWatch Preferred Partners

Here is a list of preferred partners in this area.

VIEW MORE

Is Montana a Good State for Solar Panels?

Many people assume that going solar in MT, with its relatively low sunshine availability and slow rate of solar adoption, isn’t ideal. However, there are several factors at play that make solar energy systems in the area an excellent investment. We’ll discuss these factors briefly below.

  • Below-average equipment costs: First, it’s worth noting that the cost of photovoltaic (PV) equipment in MT — an average of $2.54 per watt — is well below the national average of $2.66. That means that MT residents pay, on average, about $100 less per kW installed, or nearly $1,000 less per system than residents pay in other states. Lower equipment costs mean you get more value for your money when ditching fossil fuels and converting to clean energy.
  • Slightly below-average energy consumption: Montanans use less energy than residents of most other states.2 Lower energy needs mean homeowners will require smaller solar PV systems, which means lower costs and an overall lower barrier to entry into renewable energy.
  • Decent state incentives: Montana might not be the greenest state, but it does have several perks and benefits available to property owners who install solar equipment. We’ll discuss the specific perks later on.
  • Extreme weather and power outages: Montana residents are accustomed to temperature extremes during the winters and summers.3 This puts a lot of strain on the electric grid, which leads to an increased risk of power outages. Blackouts are especially dangerous in Montana due to the excessive snowfall, which can leave residents without power for long stretches. Grid-tied solar panels alone won’t provide electricity through outages, which is why many MT solar customers also install solar batteries. With energy storage solutions, you can effectively go off-grid and maintain electricity through blackouts.

How Much Energy Can I Get From Solar Panels in Montana?

The amount of energy your panels are expected to produce can change based on several factors, which makes estimating your rate of production difficult without a full assessment of your property. We’ll discuss some of the most influential factors below.

  • The direction your roof faces: The more intense the sunlight that hits your panels, the more energy they will generate. In North America, southern-facing roofs — according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — receive the most direct sun,4 so these roofs will see the highest energy production and the greatest return on solar investment.
  • The amount of sun your roof gets: Similarly, the amount of sunlight that hits your panels will play a major role in production, with more sun leading to more solar electricity. Any type of shade — caused by nearby trees, buildings, utility poles, or other structures — will cause a dip in your energy production. Shading is especially detrimental during the peak sunlight hours, which occur in the early and mid-afternoon.
Trees near your panels can produce shade, which drops production
Trees near your panels can produce shade, which drops production in Montana. Credit: Roper Roofing and Solar / Roperroofingandsolar.com
  • The weather: Much like shading from trees and buildings, the shade cast by clouds in the sky can cause your production rate to drop. In fact, the energy efficiency of your panels can dip by up to 90% when cloud cover is heavy. Average local weather conditions are taken into consideration by most professional solar installers, so an estimate in Bozeman will differ from estimates in Missoula and Helena, for example. 
  • The number of panels you have in your home: One of the most crucial factors that have an impact on electricity production is the size of your solar system. Adding more panels and solar cells to your rooftop solar array means collecting more sunlight and converting more of that energy to electricity. However, adding panels also bumps up your cost, so it’s best to find a happy medium between cost and energy generation.
  • The type of panels you install: The efficiency rating of your panels also affects production rates. This metric is used to convey how much of the available sunlight your panels can transform into electricity for your home. The highest panel efficiency — around 22.7% for residential solar projects — will mean the greatest levels of production if all other factors remain equal. The lower your efficiency, the lower your production will be in all conditions.

Most Montana homeowners like to estimate what size system they’ll need before getting a quote. Although doing so is challenging and often not particularly accurate, you can use the chart below for a rough production capability based on the size of the system.

Solar Power System Size Expected Daily Energy Produced (in kilowatt-hours) Expected Monthly Energy Produced

(in kilowatt-hours)

Expected Annual Energy Produced

(in kilowatt-hours)

6 kW 20 kWh 600 kWh 7,200 kWh
7 kW 23.3 kWh 700 kWh 8,400 kWh
8 kW 26.6 kWh 800 kWh 9,600 kWh
9 kW 30 kWh 900 kWh 10,800 kWh
10 kW 33.3 kWh 1,000 kWh 12,000 kWh
11 kW 36.6 kWh 1,100 kWh 13,200 kWh
12 kW 40 kWh 1,200 kWh 14,400 kWh

If you want a more accurate estimate that takes your local conditions and property shading into consideration, you can use our solar calculator to see how much power panels on your roof will provide.

EcoWatch Preferred Partners

Here is a list of preferred partners in this area.

VIEW MORE

Solar Panel Policy History in Montana

Unlike many other pro-solar states, Montana didn’t enact any solar legislation in the late 1970s or throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s.

It wasn’t until 1999 that MT residents gained the benefit of a solar policy — net metering that promoted solar conversion and helped maximize the long-term savings associated with going solar. 

Net metering is historically one of the most important provisions for promoting solar throughout the United States. While the program in MT certainly improved the value of PV systems in the area, there were no minimum credit amounts set by the Public Service Commission (PSC).

This led to many utility companies initially offering an avoided-cost or wholesale rate for energy credits. Some companies opted to promote solar on an individual company level by providing the retail rate.

It wasn’t until 2017 that the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee (ETIC) tried to get a bill passed to establish better terms for net metering in MT.

Then, in 2019, NorthWestern Energy — one of the larger utility companies in MT — tried to change the metering policy. The proposed policy was meant to include a charge for the net metering service for customers and also to move to an avoided cost rate. Both of these changes would significantly decrease the value of the policy altogether and make solar less appealing as a result. Thankfully, the changes were denied by the PSC.

Most recently, in 2021, Senate Bill 399 established a state tax credit for solar customers in MT. Unfortunately, this program ran out of funds and, as of 2022, is no longer available.

What Are the Solar Panel Incentives in Montana?

Currently, there are only a handful of solar perks available to MT customers, although they do make a big difference for up-front costs and long-term savings. We’ll discuss the currently available benefit programs below.

Solar Investment Tax Credit

  • Federal tax credit: This solar tax credit is provided by the federal government, and every MT resident can take advantage. It provides a credit for 30% of your total system cost — including panels, batteries, electric vehicle (EV) chargers, and inverters — to your income tax bill. In MT, where the typical system total is around $23,000, the average ITC comes out to nearly $7,000. Keep in mind that this is not a rebate, so you’re not guaranteed to be able to take the entire credit.
  • Net metering: This is a policy that lets you produce more energy than you need with your solar power system and bank the excess energy as energy credits. Those credits can be used to pay down future electric bills if your energy usage ever comes out higher than your solar production. The credits aren’t required to be provided at the retail rate per kWh, but many electric companies and electric cooperatives do offer the retail electricity rates for credits, which is the best-case scenario.
  • Renewable energy systems exemption: This is a property tax exemption that prevents your property taxes from going up after you install solar. Your PV equipment is expected to raise your property value by around 4%, which would normally also hike up your taxes.5 This exemption prevents that from happening.

You can read more about the perks and benefits available to you — including more localized rebate programs — by checking out our guide to Montana solar incentives.

Find a Local Installer in Montana

Choosing a solar company to handle your solar project usually requires a lot of time, dedication, and research. The company you pick will play a role in the warranty you get with your panels, the customer service provided and the total cost of the equipment.

We strongly recommend checking out our guide to choosing a reputable solar installer in the State of Montana. That article will help get you started in the right direction and will explain all of the most important factors you need to look for in a solar provider. For quick reference, our top picks are:

  • Onsite Energy
  • SBS Solar
  • Solar IPS
  • Harvest Solar MT
  • Big Sky Solar

EcoWatch Preferred Partners

Here is a list of preferred partners in this area.

VIEW MORE
Blog author image
Dan Simms
Article author
Dan Simms is an experienced writer with a passion for renewable energy. As a solar and EV advocate, much of his work has focused on the potential of solar power and deregulated energy, but he also writes on related topics, like real estate and economics. In his free time — when he's not checking his own home's solar production — he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and rock climbing.

What Are The Best Solar Companies?