What to Know If You're Considering Solar Panels in Kentucky – CNET

Solar panels are more affordable than you might expect. Here’s how to make the most of them in Kentucky.
Utility costs are rising in Kentucky. Solar panels can help you keep up.
Kentucky has seen electricity costs rise significantly in the last year. One way you might be able to fight back? Solar panels.
The Bluegrass State ranks 46th in terms of installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. But the industry is expected to grow, especially with expanded financial incentives offered by the federal Inflation Reduction Act.
More Kentuckians are realizing the potential savings to be found by installing solar panels, according to Carrie Ray, energy program coordinator at the Mountain Association, a Kentucky clean energy advocacy group. Electricity rates in Kentucky rose by more than 10% from November 2021 to November 2022, according to CNET’s sister site SaveOnEnergy.
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“We’ve seen in Kentucky that the increased cost of fossil fuels has been making bills skyrocket,” Ray said in a phone call. “Something like installing solar is a way to mitigate some of those big spikes that we have seen and we’re going to continue to see.”
Here’s what you need to know about how to get solar panels and how they can help with your energy costs.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
A major national installer, SunPower Solar offers some of the most efficient panels along with strong warranties. SunPower’s panels have an efficiency rating of up to 22.8%, some of the best in the game for residential solar. More efficient panels mean you’ll convert more of the sun’s energy into electricity, producing more power and saving more money over the long run.
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Tesla offers some of the market’s most affordable solar panels, including a price-match guarantee. The company also offers battery systems and other related products, including a solar roof that looks more seamless than the lowest profile solar panels. While you might save money, you may lose out in terms of customer service. 
So you want solar panels and you have an idea of how to pay for it. The question is, who do you buy from? You may not want to sign up with the first company that sends a sales rep to your door, experts say. Choosing the wrong company can lead to a bad experience or to costs that eat away any potential savings you’d see from offsetting your energy use or net metering.
“We always encourage folks to get more than one bid,” Ray said. “Do not go with the first bid you get, just like you wouldn’t buy a car from the first dealer you talk to.”
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Based in Lexington, Solar Energy Solutions also has locations in Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana and Illinois. The company offers a variety of solar panels along with battery systems. Solar Energy Solutions is certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals and says it does not subcontract any of its work, with licensed journeyman or master electricians present on every job.
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While it’s based in West Virginia, Solar Holler also serves Kentucky as part of its broader mission to provide solar to Appalachia. It offers a three-year guarantee that the system will produce at least 95% of the annual production projected. Solar Holler offers loans including terms of 20 and 25 years.
Solar is a costly investment, so you want to make sure you’re picking the right installer for the job. Here are a tips to help you find a reputable installer.
Here’s a look at the average cash price for a 5-kilowatt system before factoring in tax credits incentives, according to data from FindEnergy.com. Your system might cost more if you want to get a solar battery for backup power.
The biggest bit of financial help you can access for solar panels in Kentucky is a federal tax credit that can offset 30% of the total cost of a solar system. That credit was expanded and extended until 2032 by the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. Because it’s a tax credit, you should do the math ahead of time to make sure you’ll owe enough on your taxes to get the full value. 
“The tax credit is there, but don’t just assume you’ll be able to access it,” Ray said. “You’ve got to make sure you have enough tax liability to make it worthwhile. Talk to your tax professional before moving forward.”
Kentucky doesn’t have many state-level incentives for residents to go solar, although it does require most utility companies to allow net metering. That means if you install solar panels you can sell excess energy back to the grid. You can also enter into an agreement with your neighbors to guarantee that you’ll have access to sunlight, known as a solar easement. That might be helpful if you’re concerned a future neighbor might block your access to the sun.
Solar panels are a major commitment. Even after considering the federal tax credit, you’re likely looking at more than $10,000. Here are some ways to come up with that money:
Cash: If you can afford it, this is the easiest way to save on interest and financing costs. Planning on going solar eventually but not ready to take the plunge just yet? Consider saving money in a high-yield savings account to maximize your return.
Loans: Your solar company may offer its own financing or partner with a financial institution. You can also consider other loan options, such as a personal loan, home equity loan or home equity line of credit. Shop around to make sure you get the best deal. “Make sure that you know what your savings are estimated to be and that whatever financing you take is going to pay for itself within 20 years,” Ray said.
Lease or power purchase agreement: With a lease or power purchase agreement, you don’t own the panels. Instead you pay to rent them, with a lease; or you have a developer put solar panels on your house and you just pay for the energy, in a PPA. These can provide opportunities if you don’t have the cash to pay for panels, but they also might not save you as much money in the long run.
Read more: Want something smaller than a whole-home solar system? See our picks for the best portable solar panels and solar generators.
You might be thinking about solar panels as a way to save money on your utility bills or to offset your own electricity usage. Whether the panels pay for themselves depends a lot on making sure you’re getting a good deal. Here are some things to consider:
Doing a hands-on review of a solar company is difficult, and considering all the differences between projects is impossible. Instead, we focused on what we can measure and meaningfully compare among solar companies.
When evaluating solar companies, we focus on three categories of criteria: equipment, warranties and service. 
For the equipment category, companies receive scores for the panels, batteries and inverters they install. The warranty category includes the guarantees on the panels, workmanship and weatherization against leaks. Solar companies will earn points in the service category if they offer a price match guarantee, a decent level of price transparency and a well-rated app for monitoring solar energy production. Solar companies lose points if there are glaring issues concerning customer service. This includes lawsuits, investigations or reputations for low-quality service. These service issues will always be detailed in the review.
Here’s a more detailed look at how we break down the scoring.
We don’t consider the average price of a solar company’s installations in their score. Accurate and reliable pricing information is hard to find and difficult to compare across service areas (and even project to project). Solar companies are often slow to disclose this information as well. We also leave out easy-to-find (but not useful information), such as how many states a company operates in.
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Updated on Sept. 8, 2023
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