How four Midwest states boosted residential solar installations via Solarize group buys

Photo Credit Full Spectrum Solar 2

The Solarize programs included in the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Solar Group Buy have helped 482 property owners in four states add 3.8 MW of solar electric generating capacity to their homes, farms, organizations, and businesses, more than doubling the organization’s solar group buy results to date.

How it worked

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. Community members, and partnering organizations speak on their experiences below.

Iowa

Solarize Johnson County, MREA’s sole effort in Iowa in 2018 resulted in 1,125 kW on 180 properties.

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“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.”

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Wisconsin

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.”

Minnesota

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.”

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.

Illinois

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 megawatts 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.

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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