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

pervasive misconception

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

that city.

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: Milwaukee Shines: The Midwest Renewable Energy Association: The Me2 program of the City of Milwaukee:

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.