The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

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Opinion | Climate conversations with Milo

Evanston residents should look into solar homes

 

It feels like climate change is in the news every day. Maybe another natural disaster hit an island nation. Maybe another oil drilling project was approved by the Biden administration. Or maybe earth hit another temperature record as we wrap up the hottest year in human existence. It’s easy to feel powerless because it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of the crisis. Rightfully, we deflect the blame to horrible fossil fuel corporations like ExxonMobil and ignorant fossil fuel investors like Chase Bank.

Because of how huge the problem is, we often forget the real change that we can make as individuals. The fact is, so many inspiring people are fighting for tangible solutions in all communities and at all levels of government. In Evanston, city officials like sustainability manager Cara Pratt are working with activists of all ages and backgrounds to execute on Evanston’s ambitious Climate Action and Resilience Plan. At ETHS, administrators are collaborating with students to build a sustainability policy with wide-ranging sustainability goals running through 2050.

As the Hub Coordinator of E-Town Sunrise — the leading youth–led climate action organization in Evanston — I have been at the forefront of so many of these conversations, whether it’s implementing climate curriculum in ETHS Biology and Civics classes or leading a collaborative Climate Hope event with community organizations across Evanston. I’m starting a monthly column called Climate Conversations with Milo because I see an opportunity to spread stories of change and hope at a local level.

In the coming months, I look forward to sharing my insight as a young activist, but also simply as a person who cares about this planet. To kick things off, I want to talk about something that (literally) hits close to home for me: solar panels.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to get solar panels installed on the roof of my house in south Evanston. The installation was many months in the making, requiring a roof replacement and tedious conversations between my parents and various solar companies. But as I watched the 18 solar panels take their formation on my roof, I had to wonder how financially and technologically feasible this is for every Evanston resident.

The fundamental truth about solar panels is that they’re costly. Installing an entirely new energy system requires up-to-date infrastructure, expensive equipment and complex installation. The positive part, especially for Illinois residents, is that people who install solar receive most of the money back in tax credits and incentives. 

On a federal level, the Residential Clean Energy Credit is crucial to providing affordable renewable energy for Americans. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the credit “equals 30% of the costs of new, qualified clean energy property for your home installed anytime from 2022 through 2032.” Whether you’re installing geothermal heat pumps, wind turbines or solar panels, you can receive thousands back mere months after the initial payment. 

Further, Illinois homeowners can pay for their system through the sale of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) to one of the major utility companies in Illinois. This helps those companies reach their renewable energy goals while making residential solar more affordable. In my case, 36 percent of the cost of my family’s solar panels will be reimbursed within one year through SRECs. Adding this to the federal energy program, we will receive nearly two-thirds of our money back because of government programs.

Additionally, programs like Illinois Solar for All (ILSFA) attempt to make solar affordable for low-income Illinoisans. The ILSFA website states, “Income-eligible participants pay no upfront costs for a solar installation or subscription. Participants will save money on electric bills and take control of their energy future… Single-family homeowners who installed solar panels through ILSFA have saved an average of more than $1000 annually on electric bills!” 

If someone needs help paying the upfront cost of solar installation, they can get a loan, and in many cases, the average monthly savings on electricity bills from solar are greater than the monthly loan payment.

Solar technology is constantly evolving and prices are constantly dropping. CNET reports that the median household income of a solar adopter in the U.S. was about 117,000 dollars in 2022, while it was 140,000 dollars in 2010. The current number is still well above the national median household income, but it represents significant progress towards a country that has accessible renewable energy for all. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory adds that 97% of solar panel systems, equal to over 3.6 million systems, were residential applications. 

The trends are clear: the renewable energy transition is happening, even if climate activists would like it to go faster. As profit-hungry corporations continue to desecrate our planet and harm billions of people, it’s on every individual to understand their role in this crisis and do their part. Without a mass movement towards climate solutions like solar panels, the big corporations that we fear so much will win. Earth will lose.

In addition to being a sustainable consumer and a climate-conscious citizen, I ask you to explore the feasibility of installing solar at your home. Use the resources that are provided by your local, state and federal governments; their duty is to support you. Maybe your home is too shaded by trees, or your roof is not built at the correct angle, or you simply can’t afford the large cost, but you can’t know until you explore the options.

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Milo Slevin, Feature Editor
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