Property owners throughout Jefferson County are being encouraged to participate in Glacial Heritage Solar, a group purchasing program to leverage buying power and secure discounts for solar panels.

A free informational program on Solar Power Hours was presented at the Karl Junginger Memorial Library June 25. Peter Murphy, solar program manager for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), addressed about a dozen people on converting homes and businesses to solar power.

Murphy discussed the basics of solar power, its financial implications for a household or small business and how the program works.

Those in attendance were offered a free, no obligation site assessment and cost estimate from the solar installer.

MREA promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable living through education and demonstration. The goal of this organization is to protect the environment by educating the public about appropriate use of natural resources to meet energy needs.

MREA has been endorsed by the cities of Waterloo and Fort Atkinson, and Jefferson County, along with the Friends of the Glacial Heritage Area, Rock River Coalition and Sustain Jefferson.

“The reason we are here is to lead in the creation of more sustainable communities by making solar simple,” Murphy said.

MREA, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1990 at an energy fair held in Amherst. Its mission is to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable living through education and demonstration.

The MREA is most widely known as the organizer of The Energy Fair, which has helped thousands of people access resources about renewable energy and sustainable living. The group is best known for its nationally accredited technical training in solar photovoltaics, solar thermal and small wind energy.

The activities have helped grow the movement for renewable energy.

Through its Grow Solar Initiative, it hosts solar group programs across the Midwest, similar to the one held in Waterloo. In the fall of 2017, the group buy programs helped almost 300 home and business owners install solar.

With solar group buy, the costs are lower through the power of volume purchasing. As the number of property owners increases, the price drops for all.

Solar group buys help neighbors decide where to start, what to budget and who to hire. An advisory committee selected Madison-based Full Spectrum Solar through a competitive process. The company has installed more than 600 solar units in southcentral Wisconsin, Murphy said.

If homeowners choose to finance their systems, they can usually secure the best interest rates with a home equity loan or line of credit, or by including the project in their mortgage if it’s a new house or they are already financing.

The cost of each unit varies, depending on the location of the solar panels and the size of the unit. The average cost of a seven-kilowatt unit is $21,000, or a four-kilowatt unit is $11,760.

There is financing available, Murphy said. There is a 30 percent federal investment tax credit on installation, interconnection and wiring, he said. Also Focus on Energy provides a 12 percent credit on the project cost, not to exceed $2,000 for residential or $4,000 for commercial. Limited funds are available on a first come, first served basis, he said.

Most solar arrays are placed on the roofs of home, preferably on the south side for sun exposure from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Really, there are no maintenance on the solar array,” Murphy said. The panels can withstand up to 1-inch hail and 50 mph winds, he added.

“There is no cutting ties with the local utilities,” Murphy said. “Excess electricity produced is subtracted from the amount of electricity you produce,” he said. “The more energy efficient you are the less you have to buy.”

Solar panels can reduce energy bills and reduce the carbon footprint, Murphy said.

“When there is a huge solar energy spill, it’s called a nice day,” he said.

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