Wisconsin Public Radio

Solar Group Buys On The Rise

North Woods area embracing cheaper renewable energy.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jul 25th, 2018 02:09 pm
Sunrun solar installation. Photo from Sunrun.

Sunrun solar installation. Photo from Sunrun.

At least 75 people have signed contracts to install solar panels on homes and businesses in northern Wisconsin. A nonprofit group looking to expand renewable energy in the region said it’s the most contracts that have been sold through a group purchase program in the state so far.

Cheq Bay Renewables group buy program manager Amber Vadnais said the nonprofit group has partnered with solar equipment installer Next Energy Solution, Inc. of Shell Lake on the group buy.

“We’re just really excited that there’s been so much interest in our area,” said Vadnais. “To put it in perspective, I think the largest group buy in Wisconsin last year was 335 kW. We were over that by 100 kilowatts.”

The installations will take place within a 60-mile radius of the Chequamegon Bay area, including Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield. Cheq Bay Renewables estimates it takes 6 kilowatts of solar to power the average Wisconsin home each year. Next Energy Solution owner Danielle Kelly said the partnership allows her business to focus on installations rather than sales.

“We can get started on these projects really close to each other and also buy a lot of those materials at the same time,” she said. “We, as an installer, save on labor costs, traveling costs and equipment costs.”

Group buy programs also allow participants to benefit from efficiencies and economies of scale, according to policy director Michael Vickerman for nonprofit organization RENEW Wisconsin.

“First of all, the public is becoming more comfortable with the idea of rooftop solar, and, secondly, the price has come down a lot over the last five years,” said Vickerman.

The average cost of electricity in Wisconsin is about $0.11 to $0.15 per kilowatt-hour, according to most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Through group buys, Vickerman said solar installers offer a discounted rate typically less than $3 per watt.

“The price has continually declined even with the tariffs that were established earlier this year,” he said.

Executive director Nick Hylla with Midwest Renewable Energy Association said solar installations were priced around $80 per watt at the organization’s first energy fair roughly 20 years ago. Last year, the association had the largest group buy in the state with its Solar Central Wisconsin program. More than 300 kilowatts of solar panels were installed on 46 homes and businesses in central Wisconsin. He said interest in solar group buy programs is growing.

“The contractor saves all of the time of advertising, marketing, educating customers,” said Hylla. “Then, with such a large volume of purchasing, they get to plan out their build schedule, and it just works for them.”

There are seven active group buy programs in Wisconsin, according to Vickerman. In 2016, there were four group buy programs with 128 installations totaling around 528 kilowatts of solar power. Last year, five programs yielded a total of 160 installations producing around 1 megawatt or 1,000 kilowatts of solar energy. Vickerman projects the state could produce 1.5 megawatts through the current round of programs.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Solar Group Buys Gaining Ground In Recent Years was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

2 thoughts on “Solar Group Buys On The Rise”

  1. Tony says:

    No one mentions payback periods any more. What is the amount of time it takes to pay back the upfront costs of the install? In We Energy territory it appears to be over 20 years now that overage is only paid back at wholesale.

  2. podman says:

    Thanks for the update. Both Xcel Energy and Bayfield Cooperative have launched solar farms in the area offering their customers alternative energy buys. Both have been surprised by the response from locals investing in above expected numbers. Sunshine makes us happy!

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