by Peggy Schulz Have you been thinking of installing solar electric panels on the roof of your Riverwest home or business?
Maybe you’re hesitant, because you don’t know what it would entail, or who would do the actual work, and you’re worried about the cost. Well, neighbor, stop hesitating. There’s no better time to go solar than this year,
thanks to Solar Riverwest.
Solar Riverwest is headed by the Riverwest Cooperative Alliance
(RCA), in partnership with the city’s Milwaukee Shines program
and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). Solar
Riverwest will allow homeowners and businesses to do a “group
buy” of solar panels and have them installed by pre-approved
contractors. The panels will be made locally, by Helios Solar
Works, on Canal Street in Milwaukee.
Significant Financial Incentives
The savings for each participant over buying such panels
individually will depend on the total number who sign up for
the program. Those savings will come on top of existing financial
incentives offered through Milwaukee Shines, including a
Wisconsin Focus on Energy incentive (up to $2,400, depending
on the kilowatt-hours involved), a $2,000 Milwaukee Solar
incentive (for those who have worked through Me2, the city’s
energy efficiency program), and a 30% federal tax credit taken
off the remaining amount, after the other discounts are applied.
Milwaukee Shines also provides a solar financing program for
residential properties, consisting of a low-interest loan with a local
credit union, for those who are unable to get a home equity loan.
Building off the slogan of the Riverwest Public House, a member
of the RCA, Solar Milwaukee proclaims itself to be: “Building
community, one panel at a time.” The Riverwest Public House will
host the official Solar Milwaukee launch party on Monday, March
11, at 7 PM.
Seven Education Sessions Scheduled
This launch event will be the first of seven sessions over two months
at which details of the program will be provided. One important
aspect of these educational meetings is to help homeowners and
businesses do an assessment of their properties before joining the
program, to be sure that solar panels will work in their location.
Variables such as the direction your roof faces and the amount
of shading from nearby trees need to be taken into account to
ensure that installing solar electric panels at your
location will pay off in the long run.
Peter Murphy, who does bookings for the
Riverwest Public House, is championing the Solar
Riverwest program. “It’s the right thing to do on
an ideological level,” Murphy says. “Solar power is
an investment in the future of our planet, and the
future of our children and our children’s children.”
Murphy met Amy Heart, Solar Program
Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee, when she
came to the Public House for one of its regular
Sunday “Night School” sessions. That event, in
November of last year, became the springboard
for Solar Riverwest.
“Perfect to Launch This Program”
The event was well-attended, Murphy says, and
there was a good sharing of knowledge. Heart
brought the concept of a group buy to the session.
Murphy thought it fit very well with the principles
of starting a co-op – that is, people coming
together to meet a need that isn’t otherwise being
met. Heart and Murphy agreed that Riverwest was
the perfect Milwaukee neighborhood to launch a
program of this type.
Murphy acknowledges a fairly
surrounding the cost of solar
panels for individual homeowners
or businesses. “Everybody
thinks they know that solar is
prohibitively expensive,” Murphy
says. “It’s not just going to happen.
You have to do it. Oh, man, I
can’t wait for solar to happen in
Heart, who oversees Milwaukee
Shines, the city’s solar energy program, also is aware
that cost is an issue for people considering solar
panel installation. But she’s happy to report that over
the last five years, the cost of solar installation has
dropped by 50%. “It’s gone from a ‘pie in the sky’ idea
to the point where a fairly decent size system now
runs about $5,000, on average,” Heart says. “With the
group-buy aspect of the Solar Riverwest program,
the cost likely will be even lower.”
Lessons Learned, Best Practices
Just as RCA brings to Solar Riverwest the cooperative
element, the city, through Heart, will add the lessons
learned in other municipalities where such group
purchases already have been made. Portland,
Oregon initiated a similar program in 2010. San Jose,
California also has put one in place for employees of
Because Milwaukee Shines is a grantee of the US
Department of Energy, Solar Riverwest can tap into
the knowledge base of that federal agency to learn
more about the experiences of Portland and San Jose
and the best practices when it comes to solar panel
installation on residences and small businesses.
Riverwest resident Tony Berger had solar panels installed at his home on
Booth Street between Chambers and Burleigh last October.
chosen to participate in the program will
be able to give prospective participants an
estimate of their costs, before the incentives
are applied. Again, the greater the number of
participants, the lower the final cost for each
Murphy is deeply committed to making Solar
Riverwest a success. “As far as I’m concerned,
the transition to renewable energy is of the
utmost importance,” he says. “Right now, our
energy comes mainly from two sources, coal
and natural gas. Coal is mined and burned
in ways that are completely environmentally
unsustainable, and the supposedly cleaner
natural gas isn’t any better,” Murphy says,
because it involves “fracking,” the extraction
of the gas from deep underground.
Tony Berger is a Riverwest resident who
had solar panels installed at his Booth Street
home last October. He couldn’t be happier
with the results. “We’ve already created over
1 megawatt of power!” Berger exclaims.
“I honestly can’t see why more people in
Milwaukee don’t make this jump. It’s kind of
a no-brainer to me.”
Solar Riverwest, as its name implies, is
focused on the Riverwest neighborhood,
but participation is open to any resident of
Milwaukee. And, as Murphy points out, even
renters might want to inform themselves
about Solar Riverwest and then have a
conversation with their landlords about the
possibility of installing solar panels on their buildings.
Learn More: The Solar Riverwest website, in development now: www.SolarRiverwest.org Milwaukee Shines: www.city.milwaukee.gov/milwaukeeshines The Midwest Renewable Energy Association: www.midwestrenew.org The Me2 program of the City of Milwaukee: www.smartenergypays.com.
Solar Riverwest info sessions. Homeowners, find out how you can get in on an exclusive groupbuying program to bring down the price of solar, and take Riverwest one step closer to energyindependence! Brought to you by the Riverwest Cooperative Alliance, Milwaukee Shines, and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. Questions? email
Monday, March 11, 7PM KICK OFF!! Riverwest Public House, 815 E Locust St. Tuesday, March 26, 6PM Woodland Pattern, 720 E Locust St Monday,April 1, 7PM Jackpot Gallery, 825 E Center St Thursday, April 18, 4PM People’s Books, 804 E Center St. Sunday, April 21, 6PM Riverwest Public House, 815 E Locust St. Thursday, May 9, 6PM Pink House, 601 E Wright St. Wednesday, May 22, 6PM Jazz Gallery, 926 E. Center St.