Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Solar Program Has Record-Setting Year

Solar power in Milwaukee has doubled in less than two years.

By - Nov 11th, 2021 08:26 pm
Solar panels atop a traditional Milwaukee home. Image from Grow Solar Greater Milwaukee/City of Milwaukee.

Solar panels atop a traditional Milwaukee home. Image from Grow Solar Greater Milwaukee/City of Milwaukee.

A public-private partnership continues to power itself to new heights.

The Grow Solar Grower Milwaukee group buy program, designed to reduce the cost of installing solar panels, set a new record for size this year with 64 properties adding solar panels capable of producing 421 kilowatts of electricity.

Launched in 2013, the 2021 installations represent 33% of the total capacity of 1,292 kilowatts installed throughout the life of the program. But that also points to the growing efficiency of the panels, as the 64 participants this year represent only 23% of the lifetime participants (282).

The program was initially jointly led by the City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office and the nonprofit Midwest Renewable Energy Association. It has now expanded to include the surrounding municipalities of Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay.

The 2021 participants are expected to generate $77,000 in energy savings in the first year of operation and reduce greenhouse emissions equivalent to burning 437,355 pounds of coal.

In addition to leveraging federal tax credits and state rebates, the scale of the program yields savings for participants. The average participant received $1,300 in rebates from installer Arch Electric, up from $450 in 2019. Emails to potential program participants announced when the bigger and bigger benchmarks were reached, compounding the savings.

Arch Electric was selected as the program installer for the 2021 program. It provided 186 free bids.

“As a proud Milwaukee native, I truly feel that after this summer solar has arrived in our city,” said Angie Kochanski, residential sales manager at Arch Electric, in a press release announcing the results. “It’s exciting to see our city arrive on the map as a leader in renewable energy and I look forward to watching this trend continue.”

In addition to 62 homeowners, two businesses took part in the program.

Walnut Way Conservation Corp. is having solar panels installed atop the second phase of its Innovations and Wellness Commons building, 1609 W. North Ave. The two-story building, completed earlier this year, also includes a battery power storage system. Walnut Way was designated the city’s first ECO Neighborhood in 2019 and a number of buildings already sport solar panels.

Walnut Way partnered with MREA to train area residents for renewable energy jobs. Two of the 10 individuals receiving scholarships will work as interns with Arch Electric and install the Walnut Way system.

“The Walnut Way and MREA partnership is an intentional effort to make the pathway to green jobs accessible across all of Milwaukee, but especially in communities of color that have suffered historical disinvestment and economic isolation,” said Walnut Way Executive Director Antonio Butts.

Cactus Club, a bar and music venue, also participated. Kelsey Kaufmann, who purchased the business in Feb. 2020 after years managing it, said in interviews she was pursuing a solar installation shortly after she bought the Bay View business. Through a limited liability company, Kaufmann also owns the property, 2494 S. Wentworth Ave.

Program partners in 2021 included the Bay View Neighborhood Association, Sherman Park Neighborhood Association, Walker’s Point Neighborhood Association, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Murray Hill Neighborhood Association and Walnut Way.

The scale of the installations is exceeded by the City of Milwaukee’s College Avenue solar array installed and paid for by We Energies. With 7,000 panels, the 2.25-megawatt array became operational earlier this year. It is part of Mayor Tom Barrett and ECO director Erick Shambarger‘s “all of the above” strategy of reaching a goal of having 25% of the City of Milwaukee’s municipal electricity needs (15 megawatts) produced by renewable energy by 2025.

“Milwaukee is committed to addressing the threat of climate change by advancing renewable and energy efficiency developments across the city,” said Barrett in a statement.

A 2020 city report said at least 3.6 megawatts of solar energy panels were installed in Milwaukee through Jan. 2019 by public and private entities, including homeowners. But the ECO website says that the total more than doubled in two years, with 8.27 megawatts installed as of Jan. 2021.

Interested in solar power on your home? The 2021 group buy program closed on Sept. 30, but information is still available on the program website.

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One thought on “Milwaukee Solar Program Has Record-Setting Year”

  1. David Coles says:

    Fantastic. I find the Walnut Way training program especially exciting. Last year I hired Arch Electric to inspect my east-side solar panel array, which was underperforming (because of squirrel-chewed wires), and their technician had to drive down from Plymouth to do the work. No reason we shouldn’t have an abundance of Milwaukee residents trained to work in this industry.

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