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Solar energy popularity grows in Iowa
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Solar energy popularity grows in Iowa

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A Council Bluffs electrical contractor is believed to be the first in Iowa and Nebraska to install Tesla solar roofs at the homes of customers across both states, including one customer who lives near Lake Manawa.

PowerTech, which is headquartered in the Bluffs and has an office in Omaha, is awaiting the required permits before beginning construction at all three homes. In addition to the Manawa property, one home is located in rural Nebraska and one in central Iowa.

Once permits are received, the projects are likely to be completed within the next two to three months, said Scott Bang, PowerTech’s residential electrical services manager.

As Earth Day is recognized globally today, a growing number of homeowners and businesses in eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa are considering switching to solar energy to power their homes, Bang said.

While the use of solar power is already common at properties in sunny states like California and Florida, it’s starting to be adopted in seasonally-colder climates, including the Midwest. While transitioning to solar power is an upfront investment that varies depending on the size of the property, the long-term energy savings — combined with federal and state government tax credits — have made the idea more attainable to a larger scope of consumers, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Iowa’s solar tax credits are more robust than Nebraska’s offerings, though the Cornhusker state does offer a few incentives.

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Bang said PowerTech has been regularly fielding questions about solar panel installation since it began offering the service last year. Solar power converts the sun’s energy into electricity and distributes it through a home’s electrical system.

“The sun is free energy, so why wouldn’t you use it? Bang said. “It makes sense for homeowners who want to save energy, both in terms of lower energy bills and tax savings as well as a big environmental benefit.”

Tesla — the famed maker of luxury electric cars — unveiled its first solar roof in 2017. Unlike solar panels, which are placed on top of traditional shingles, Tesla roofs replace the roof itself, using solar-powered tiles. Tesla designed the tiles to function the same as photovoltaic solar panels while seamlessly integrating into a roof. The look of traditional solar panels is what stops some homeowners from making the switch, although Bang said an improved design has helped change that perception.

“The panels are a lot sleeker now,” Bang said. “For the longest time, people worried about the aesthetics of the panels, but they have become a lot more appealing.”

PowerTech in September installed solar panels on four rooftops at its main campus, 2614 Railroad Highway. The company is now 100% energy independent, meaning it uses battery technology that stores excess power for use on cloudy days or during inclement weather.

PowerTech President Josh Kallsen said the solar panels on all four buildings have saved an estimated 520 trees combined in only eight months. He said PowerTech employees have happily embraced a greener campus.

“We’ve been able to greatly reduce our carbon footprint,” Kallsen said. “PowerTech employees have been longtime supporters of anything that helps the community. To us, protecting the planet is an obvious and meaningful extension of that.”

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