Solar Homeowner Profile: Katie Jones Schmitt & Peter Schmitt

By Virginia Rutter on February 3, 2018

Katie and Peter are solar homeowners in the Lowry Hill East neighborhood of Minneapolis. They faced some unique challenges in going solar, and as a result, they helped launch the Uptown Solar Co-op to make the process easier for their neighbors! We spoke with them about their experience.

Why did you decide to go solar?

As soon as we bought a property, I wanted to make it as green as possible. This desire came from a moment in college when as an environmental and natural resources engineering major I realized that energy production and transportation contributed to virtually every environmental problem – habitat loss, climate change, water quality, air quality, etc. This motivated me to commit to greening my energy as soon as I had the chance. I also wanted to show others that going solar in my neighborhood is physically possible, financially feasible, and just plain cool. As such, my goal was to build the largest solar array possible on the property. Peter was supportive of the idea of going solar as well. As he has Environmental Science and MBA degrees, he certainly sees both the environmental and financial benefits of going solar.

What problems did you face with your solar installation?

Our installation experience was ultimately less than ideal. Having a triplex with three meters made understanding the options complex for our installer and for us. Xcel was not particularly speedy nor very responsive to our questions either. While we were considering the size and combining our three meters, we made some efficiency upgrades that caused us to lose our Solar*Rewards eligibility. Our array had become too large, as the new calculations showed that we would produce over 150% of the annual consumption of the house. Luckily, we were financially able to make this work, but it increased our payback length. Other issues were that our 1920s-era garage needed structural reinforcement and that we had to have a trench dug under part of our driveway to connect the house and garage.

Would you recommend going solar to your neighbors?

Ultimately, we had solar panels installed on the roof of our house and on the garage. Since installation we have had no problems, other than snow collecting on the panels, especially on the gentle-sloped garage roof. From this experience, we realized that there are major benefits to going solar in this area of the city: 1. Most of the houses from the 1880s-1920s era are 2.5 to 3 stories tall. This makes it more likely that a roof will not have shade from trees. 2. Many of the houses are long rectangles from east-to-west. This means they have large southern facing roofs (if there is no dormer).

We had the solar panels installed in October, and they were ultimately connected in February. We’re coming up on our 1 year anniversary of Feb. 13th! To date, we’ve produced a net 143% of our consumption. I sincerely doubt that we will ever pay a bill to Xcel Energy again. December was the first month in which we used more electricity from the grid than we produced. Since we’ve banked so much in credits in previous months, the amount that we have to pay will be deducted from those credits.