The Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Solar Group Buy (also known as Solarize) programs have helped 482 property owners in four states add 3,815 kW of solar electric generating capacity to their homes, farms, organizations and businesses, more than doubling the organization’s solar group buy results to date.
MREA’s Solar Group Buys come at no cost to the partnering jurisdictions and organizations except for staff time. Each program included a competitive process led by local advisory committees to select the solar installation firm that would serve their respective program. Selected installers included All Sky Energy, Eagle Point Solar, Full Spectrum Solar, Moxie Solar, North Wind Renewable Energy, StraightUp Solar, and TruNorth Solar.
The Solar Group Buy programs take an education approach to helping midwest communities pool their buying power and go solar affordably. Additionally, MREA works with local jurisdictions to make sure permitting, planning, and zoning policies are solar-ready. The MREA held eight Solar Group Buy programs in four Midwest states in 2018. Community members, and partnering organizations speak on their experiences below.
Solarize Johnson County, MREA’s sole effort in Iowa in 2018, resulted in 1,125 kW on 180 properties.
“Wow, is almost all we can say,” said Mike Carberry, chairperson of the Johnson County, Iowa, Board of Supervisors. “This household renewable energy takes us further on the path to a healthier, more sustainable community for ourselves and those to come. Hundreds of people in our county deserve a big round of applause for taking time to learn about residential solar through Solarize Johnson County.”
“We couldn’t have launched a large-scale residential solar program so quickly and so successfully without MREA’s approach,” said Becky Soglin, Sustainability Coordinator for Johnson County. “The results exceeded our expectations – more awareness, more solar at an affordable price, and more connections with our partner cities.”
In Wisconsin, the MREA focused on three markets: Central Wisconsin, Jefferson County, and Sauk County. MREA’s Wisconsin Solar Group Buys added over 800 kW of solar capacity on 125 properties.
Mike Wiza, Mayor of Stevens Point was excited to lend support for MREA’s Solar Central Wisconsin program for the second year in a row. “It was very successful the first time around and we were able to help get solar power installed in a variety of venues. The Power Hours are your doorway into understanding what the program is and what it can do for you. Now, more than ever, installing solar is not just the right thing to do, but now the fiscally smart thing to do.”
Frankie Fuller, of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, is using the sun for most of her electricity needs thanks to the Glacial Heritage Solar program, which she helped organize as a community partner. The Glacial Heritage program achieved a total capacity of 139 kW on 18 properties.
“The best part of this for me was seeing that people do want to make a difference in their use of energy and when provided with information and an opportunity to make those changes, they are willing, and, in some cases, eager to do that,” said Fuller. “Several times we heard people say, ‘I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this for years,’ while others were pleasantly surprised to see that making the change to solar was actually within their reach with just a little bit of effort.”
John Nichols, another program organizer for Glacial Heritage Solar, also added solar to his own home through the program. “Beth [Gehred, of Fort Atkinson] and Frankie brought this program to my attention at a Citizens Climate Lobby presentation and asked if I would like to be one of the program organizers,” said Nichols. “I had been thinking about going solar for quite a while but was always hesitant in going through the process. I was also certain other people felt the same way. This solar group buy simplified the process by providing a qualified installer who offered free site assessments and took care of the projects from start to finish. That was the nudge I needed to go solar.”
Paul and Kathy Grosskrueger are part of a number of property owners around Sauk County, Wisconsin, who decided to add solar to their properties this year. “We had been thinking about going Solar for a while and more seriously the last year,” said Paul Grosskrueger. “When we heard about the push in Sauk County we went to a Solar Power Hour seminar at Jay’s restaurant in Reedsburg.” Thanks in part to their participation, the program surpassed its goal of adding 200 kW of solar around the county more than twice over. The Solar Sauk County program achieved a total capacity of 448 kW on 67 properties.
“Sauk County is working to achieve the goal of assisting our residents and becoming a more sustainable community with a reduced dependence on fossil fuel and decreased reliance on wasteful use of scarce metals and minerals,” said Justine Bula, Education Coordinator for Sauk County Conservation, Planning, & Zoning. “We are excited to see the positive impact this program has had, helping to make this goal a reality. The interest and initiative that has been shown by our county residents in moving towards sustainable renewable solar energy and away from fossil fuels is inspiring.”
In 2018, the MREA facilitated its first Minnesota-focused Solar Group Buy Program, “Solar Twin Cities,” to offer homeowners, nonprofits and business a simplified approach to going solar. MREA partnered with staff in communities across the Twin Cities metro to host Solar Power Hours and build awareness about the program’s simplified solar purchasing process. As a result of strong community support, more than 261 kW of new solar capacity will be installed on 34 properties owned by homeowners and businesses in the Twin Cities metro in early 2019.
“Our goal in hosting the first Solar Twin Cities Group Buy Program was to make the process of going solar simple, informative, and understandable,” said Eric Rehm, Solar Finance Manager for MREA.
Carlos, a Minneapolis homeowner who went solar through the program described the program as, “extremely well coordinated, great communications, and made the entire project understandable and smooth.”
Another Solar Twin Cities participant, Jim, said, “We’ve been thinking about doing solar for a couple of years now, but it was the Solar Twin Cities program that pushed us over the hump. The contractor has been excellent to work with and we feel like we’re going to help make a difference. Not only do we get the monetary benefit of using the program, but we also feel like we are part of a team with the other people that signed up through the program. Our neighbors are also considering solar as well.”
“Renewable energy, including rooftop solar, is an important part of building a cleaner, greener future for our community,” said Jeremy Schroeder, City of Minneapolis Council Member Ward 11. “Group purchasing programs help reduce costs for participants, making it possible for more of our neighbors to access the benefits – including cost savings – of clean energy. I hope to see more opportunities like this in Ward 11 and across Minneapolis.”
MREA also successfully applied to and received an award of more than $38k in solar incentives from the City of Minneapolis Solar Cost-Share Program that will directly benefit the 19 Minneapolis families that chose to go solar through the Solar Twin Cities program in 2018.
In Illinois, MREA facilitated three separate Solar Group Buy programs: Solar Bloomington Normal 2.0, Solar Urbana-Champaign 3.0, and Solarize Metro East. Combined, these programs represent over 1.5 MW of new generating capacity.
The programs’ successes have been bolstered by both the increasing popularity of solar and Illinois’ position in the spotlight of the solar industry: the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) has improved the incentive landscape for solar owners. Additionally, MREA’s programs in Illinois have achieved high numbers thanks to growing interest from businesses looking to go solar, such as the 75-kW solar array planned at the brand new Illini Elite Volleyball facility opening this fall in Bloomington, owned by club director Andy Erins.
“I have been interested in solar power for my home for both environmental and economic reasons and so I attended one of the Solar Bloomington-Normal program informational presentations,” said Erins. “By the end of the presentation, I was excited about the potential for including solar power in our new facility project. The information presented along with the financial incentives included in the Solar BN program allowed us to include solar power in our project construction. Illini Elite Volleyball would not have been able to take advantage of all of the environmental and economic benefits of solar power without the Solar Bloomington-Normal 2.0 program.”
Dave Macios of Creekside Gardens in Collinsville, Illinois, and Dr. Mike Murphy, optometrist and owner of Vision Source in Swansea, Illinois have also added solar to their commercial properties through the program.
“I’ve always wanted to go solar, mainly for environmental reasons, and looked into it years ago,” said Macios. “Today, with the incentives offered, it really makes sense financially. The Solarize Metro East program was the clincher for me.” Creekside Gardens is hosting a public Solar Open House on Saturday October 20th from 10am-2pm with tours given throughout the day to demonstrate the power of clean energy from a local business’s perspective.
“Solar energy pays for itself,” said Murphy. “Why not control the cost of (or eliminate the cost of) something you must use every day and otherwise have to pay ever increasing rates?”
“I can’t think of anyone with as much experience doing community-level solar education and bulk solar program management as MREA,” said Scott R. Tess, Environmental Sustainability Manager, City of Urbana. “MREA has helped us dramatically lower the cost of solar in our area which has resulted in a record amount of solar installations.”
Presidential Fellow at University of Illinois and former White House expert on climate science Don Wuebbles helped the Solar Urbana-Champaign repeat its past success with his commitment to install solar. “We are quite excited about putting a solar system on our home,” said Wuebbles. “Solar and other forms of renewable energy is the future for the United States and for our planet. Along with being a professor at the University of Illinois, I am a scientist and an expert on climate change. The science is very clear that climate change is one of the most important issues of our time and perhaps of all time. Getting a solar system is one of the ways we are trying to make a difference and to help humanity address this important issue.”
Dr. Wuebbles is an expert in atmospheric physics and chemistry, with over 500 scientific publications related to the Earth’s climate, air quality, and the stratospheric ozone layer.
Partnering local organizations and jurisdictions for all of the Solar Group Buy Programs included Sauk County government, UW-Extension, Sauk Area Climate Awareness and Action (SACAA), Spring Green Area Chamber of Commerce, The Social District, Heart of the City, Sustain Jefferson, Johnson County, Johnson County Conservation, Johnson County Public Health, Coralville, Iowa City, North Liberty, Shueyville, Solon and West Branch, the Ecology Action Center, City of Urbana, Prairie Rivers Network, City of Belleville, IL, City of Columbia, IL, Madison County Resource Management, Glen Carbon Cool Cities Committee, Piasa Palisades Sierra Club, Lewis & Clark Community College, Mid-State Technical College, the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin, and the cities of Wausau, Stevens Point, and Wisconsin Rapids.
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