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More than 60 homes, farms and businesses across Minnesota will participate in the annual Minnesota Renewable Energy Tour this Saturday, an event highlighting clean energy projects and sustainable practices.

Four Winona residents, among other area homeowners, will open their doors to give the community a chance to ask questions and see renewable energy in action.

Mike and Marilyn Meeker’s home in Winona is just one of the stops on the tour.

Last December, the Meekers installed a 10-kilowatt solar panel, a system that generates about 9,000 kilowatts of electricity an hour.

The system saves about 18,000 pounds of carbon monoxide a year, a number equivalent to planting about 12,000 trees. Though the installation was expensive — it cost $39,000 — the Meekers did the math and figured the panel will pay for itself within five years.

How? It’s a three-part system, Mike explained.

First, they receive a federal tax credit, which paid off a third of the cost this spring.

Second, they were chosen for the Made in Minnesota incentive program, which agreed to pay for the energy they produce for 10 years if they bought panels made in the state.

And third, of course, they are getting electricity completely free.

In fact, the Meekers are actually making money off of the solar panel. Any excess electricity they sell to Xcel, which sends them a check each month.

“I took my retirement account, which I was worried about, and I put it on the roof,” Mike said.

“Now it’s earning steady money every day the sun shines.”

The Meekers have wanted to install a panel for nearly 40 years, Mike said, ever since they first bought their house. But the timing was never right, and installing a solar panel wasn’t always as accessible and viable as it is these days.

“I did it because I’m cheap — I wanted to save money,” Mike said. “I also wanted to feel a little better about the fact that I use electricity.”

The house is perfect for the endeavor because it faces exactly south, giving great exposure to the sun, Meeker said.

They replaced three small windows on the south side of the house with 10 windows, and are able to use the sun for heat — they rarely have their gas furnace turned on, even in cold temperatures, Meeker said. In the summers, they use a roof overhang that protects the house from the sun, keeping it cooler.

When asked why more people aren’t looking into solar energy, Meeker said it is simply a lack of understanding.

“Most people just don’t understand what’s possible,” he said.

He predicted if he and his wife ever wanted to sell the house, the panel will add to the value of the house. Not to mention, it brings electricity generation local while reducing pollution.

What’s the downfall?

Nothing, Meeker said.

“It just works.”

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