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Opinion: Shop Local: Support your local Montana solar and wind professionals

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Supporting local businesses is a year-round endeavor, but that sentiment is particularly heightened during the fast-approaching holiday season. Supporting local small businesses benefits communities by keeping dollars circulating locally and employing residents.

Montana is full of small businesses, which includes rooftop solar, small wind, and battery storage professionals. Compared to other states like California, Washington, or Colorado, the industry here in Montana is small. What that means is that there really aren’t any large, national solar installation firms that operate here like they do in other states. Montana has about 40-45 businesses working in rooftop solar and small wind. These businesses average 2-4 employees, with some of the largest businesses having 20 employees, at most.

What does all this mean? Montana’s thriving renewable energy industry is a local, independently operated, small-business industry. These are qualified, experienced professionals — many of which have been operating in Montana for decades.

Unfortunately, online marketing schemes from out-of-state groups are starting to become common in Montana. Internet ads and social media posts promise deals that are too good to be true — because they are. They may try to charm with tales of financial incentives that do not actually exist. They work hard to get a customer to sign a contract and purchase equipment without having an on-the-ground team to complete the installation. And purchasing a “plug and play”, one-size-fits-all systems rarely leads to a satisfied customer. This doesn’t match the standard that Montana’s professionals offer, and takes away meaningful skilled career opportunities from locals.

In Montana, a local firm employing locally based solar and wind professionals can walk you through the entire installation process. They’ll help you size the system to match your budget, complete a site assessment to help you understand your energy production potential, and identify any challenges unique to your roof, like nearby trees or neighboring buildings. They can go over the real financing and incentive options available in our state. They can even help you understand all the necessary paperwork from the utility and navigate current rules, regulations, and laws. They’ll be there all the way through the point when you begin generating your own home-grown energy. And since they’re local they will be around to answer follow-up questions, as well as operation and maintenance of your system.

When you are considering installing solar, wind, or battery storage at your home or business focus on supporting local economies and local careers, and be wary of out-of-state marketing schemes. If you have questions or something doesn’t feel right, give MREA a call and we can help you out. You can also access our free listing of local solar and wind professionals on our website: MontanaRenewables.org/Directory. Unlike out-of-state marketers, these local businesses know how we do things in Montana.

Andrew Valainis is executive director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster the growth of renewable energy for all Montanans through education, advocacy, and industry engagement.

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