Graham Kilmer
MKE County

New County Building Could Run on Solar Power

County planning 31,000 square feet in solar arrays to power new human services building.

By - Mar 5th, 2024 05:16 pm
Conceptual rendering of new Department of Health and Human Services building. Rendering by Engberg Anderson Architects.

Conceptual rendering of new Department of Health and Human Services building. Rendering by Engberg Anderson Architects.

Milwaukee County could have its first solar-powered government building.

The county is in the middle of building a new human services building at 1230 W. Cherry St., less than one block south of the existing Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Building. And county officials are working on a plan to generate all the building’s electricity with a solar panel array in the parking lot.

A new report from the county’s Facilities Management Division shows such a solar array is feasible and that it would cost the county between approximately $2.2 million and $3.3 million for all the planning, equipment and installation.

The county began working on this solar project in response to a resolution by Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson and Sup. Priscilla E. Coggs-Jones, which requested a study of a solar array in the parking lot at the new human services building.

The $42 million building will replace the existing Coggs building, at 1220 W. Vliet St., but retain the name. The 60,000-square-foot building will be the headquarters for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the massive agency that makes up approximately 50% of all county government. The new building would also include space for a new Friedens Food Pantry.

The project calls for approximately 70,000 square feet of parking space for employees and the public. The solar project would involve building canopies over the parking spaces to hold approximately 27,200 square feet of high efficiency solar panels. This would be complimented by an 3,200 square foot array of rooftop panels, and together the 31,000 square feet of solar arrays would produce enough energy to meet the building’s energy needs.

There are some state and federal rebates and tax incentives the county can explore to reduce the cost of the project. But in order get a return on the full cost of the solar array, it will take approximately 25 to 38 years. For that reason, facilities staff report, “The initial project economics are not overly attractive.”

Still, it will be clean energy and it will reduce the county’s overall carbon footprint, something the government has made it a policy to do.

Most of the county’s operational carbon emissions (64% in 2022) come from the energy used to power its many buildings and facilities. The county is already engaged in another extensive energy project — also legislated into existence by Nicholson — to develop a plan for achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a 45% reduction from 2005 emission levels by 2030.

The solar arrays would also give the county “a hedge against future electric rate increases,” according to the facilities report. Over the past three years energy costs at the existing Coggs building have gone up 19% due to rate increases by We Energies.

It will ultimately be up to the county board — and county executive — whether this project is developed, as they control the county’s budget. But a new budgeting tool — once again created at the request of Chairwoman Nicholson — could bump the project up a list of priorities.

The county recently added climate considerations to a list of criteria that are used to rank infrastructure projects for funding. A project that powers an entire building with solar energy and reduces the county’s carbon emissions will score well for its climate impact.

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One thought on “MKE County: New County Building Could Run on Solar Power”

  1. says:

    This is so forward thinking. Milwaukee’s future. Absolutely stunning. Can’t wait to see it and feel proud of Milwaukee.

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