Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Government Charts Big Expansion of Solar Power

New Coggs building project is a catalyst for countywide plan exploring solar power.

By - Jun 22nd, 2024 04:38 pm
New Marcia P. Coggs building being constructed and a solar array at 1600 E. College Ave. Photos by Graham Kilmer.

New Marcia P. Coggs building being constructed and a solar array at 1600 E. College Ave. Photos by Graham Kilmer.

The Milwaukee County Board would like to go big on solar power.

Since December last year, supervisors have chased the possibility of outfitting the county’s new Human Services building with enough solar panels to power it. The $42 million building is being built at 1230 W. Cherry St. and will replace the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, which is located two blocks south at 1220 W. Vliet St.

As the idea has worked through the legislative process, it has inspired additional legislation seeking the development of a comprehensive countywide strategy for implementing solar power infrastructure.

In March, supervisors learned that a solar array on both the building and in the parking lot were feasible and that it would cost the county approximately $2 to $3 million to develop. Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson, who authored the legislation tasking county officials to explore the project, offered another resolution this month setting up the county to potentially include the project in the 2025 budget.

The county gets less than 1% of its energy needs met by renewables. That’s pretty embarrassing,” said Sup. Steven Shea, a co-sponsor of Nicholson’s legislation.

The solar installation county officials have contemplated would involve building a canopy structure over parking stalls capable of holding 27,200 square feet of high-efficiency solar panels, along with a 3,200 square foot array on the rooftop of the building.

The resolution asks the county administration “to provide an estimated project cost and prepare a recommendation identifying funding sources to allow the installation of expanded solar photovoltaic system(s) at the new Coggs Building Project parking lot.”

County officials have indicated there may be opportunities for funding, or solar energy credits from the federal government. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) may be one such source, Stuart Carron, director of facilities management, told supervisors on the Committee on Community, Environment and Economic Development.

It was unanimously passed by the county board at their meeting Thursday. But not before an amendment, authored by Sup. Shawn Rolland, expanded the scope of the county’s planning for solar energy. The resolution now also requests a “comprehensive solar energy strategy” for the government, to “position Milwaukee County as a leader in sustainable energy, driving significant progress toward a carbon-neutral future.”

It’s really just asking for a larger strategic plan related to solar energy,” Rolland said at the board meeting.

The resolution now asks county officials for potential locations, a framework for estimating the return on investment for solar projects and comparison of solar opportunities based their impact, cost-effectiveness and potential to assist with the county’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

County staff have been engaged for several years in a project assessing the county’s energy needs and planning for a transition to sources that make the government carbon neutral by 2050.

The full solar strategy will undoubtedly take longer to develop, but the a plan for the Coggs building array should be ready by September this year and in time for the 2025 budget process this fall.

As first reported by Urban Milwaukee in February, the City of Milwaukee is partnering with We Energies on two new solar installations to add to its existing arrays. The latest arrays will allow the city to meet a goal of generating 25% of its electricity via renewable sources by 2025.

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4 thoughts on “MKE County: County Government Charts Big Expansion of Solar Power”

  1. Colin says:

    Let’s get solar installed the top of all city buildings where it’s feasible. And also get ways of encouraging it on top of other buildings and homes as well. Not nearly enough is done to encourage it currently.

  2. mpbehar says:

    I’ve seen a few individual residential wind mills on the North side, and am wondering why we don’t rely more on more predictable wind energy, than solar? The two County buildings spoke of here are just west of the freeway, and a windmilll like just east of the I-794 and south of Hoan Bridge supplies the Coast Guard and has excess that presumably sells back to WE Energies. Why not more wind mills– for residential and government buildings??

  3. Colin says:

    Wind energy works best with huge/large wind turbines, which really aren’t feasible for residential or cities, not to mention the turbulence from structures. The larger the turbine, the more efficient / way more power it can produce. Much greater torque compared to something smaller that spins easier. Works a lot better in rural or agricultural areas, but that’s not to say it couldn’t be done in some of the larger field like areas in the greater Milwaukee County. Off shore is possible but adds additional complications and expense that aren’t there when it’s on land, not to mention it would contend with ice which isn’t there when it’s implemented on oceans. Solar is a lot easier to roll out / fits built-up Milwaukee area better.

    If it’s not mandated already 200A electrical service should be mandatory for all new residential builds and any sort of replacement of service due to maintenance or storms etc. This will help prepare homes for an electrified future (both putting power back into grid, electric car charging draw, and distancing from natural gas in the home).

  4. mpbehar says:

    Thank you, Colin!

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