BY MONICA DIX —
Shorewood will be participating in the fifth round of Milwaukee solar group buys this spring. These ‘group buys’ localize a solar installation program and reduce the cost of installing solar power for interested residents, and are run through the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, or MREA.
Solar group buys began in Portland and have spread to the MREA, where they use a similar model and have been organizing them since 2013. The MREA is currently running programs across the Midwest, often simultaneously.
“The group buy model is a great tool for installing a lot of solar in a relatively short amount of time,” said Peter Murphy, market development coordinator at the MREA.
This program is run simultaneously by the MREA with a program for the city of Milwaukee, such that it will be even easier for residents to receive a discount, due to the higher quantity of people buying into the program due to the tiered pricing structure.
“It’s definitely mutually beneficial,” Murphy said.
This structure dictates that the greater quantity of participants, the more affordable the installations become for everyone. This is because the MREA can negotiate to reduce the soft costs of the project in a dual approach, by educating the public through outreach and organizing a setup that allows a large number of customers to get solar in a relatively short window of time.
“We’ve been doing it for a few years now and we see that it makes a difference to have a group buy, rather than educating, … the group buy provides a discount and a deadline,” Murphy said.
Overall, the MREA is typically able to negotiate a 15-20% discount for the program participants.
“That’s something that nobody could do on their own, it’s a collective action and a grassroots proposition,” Murphy said.
The MREA has brought solar group buys to neighborhoods in Milwaukee such as Bay View, Layton Heights and Riverwest. The contractor they have selected for Shorewood, Arch Electric, has worked in all of these locations as well.
“We’ve worked with them a number of times in the past,” Murphy said.
This is brought to Shorewood through the Shorewood Conservation Committee. Chase Kelm village liaison from the committee to the project. He works closely with the MREA in coordinating community outreach.
Joshua Liberatore, Shorewood Conservation Committee president, is full support of the project.
“It increases your negotiating power,” Liberatore said. “It’s nice to have a professional outlet doing all of the planning and the contract management.”
Community members are encouraged to attend Solar Power Hours, information sessions about Solar Shorewood. As part of the program, residents will receive a free site assessment for their home.
“In an hour we basically provide the amount of information that it might take a homeowner or a business owner two weeks to research on their own,” Murphy said.
The Solar Power Hours are on April 26 at the Three Lions Pub, May 24 at the Shorewood Village Center at the Library, and June 6 at the Shorewood Colectivo, all at 6 P.M. There will be another event added in July.
“It’s basically like a listening session if residents are interested in learning more. They can hear about solar power in general, how they could install solar power on their house, how it works, what the estimated return on investment might be, how much the cost might be, how the whole group buy process works, basically just to see how it all works,” Kelm said.
The site assessment involves a scheduled appointment with an installer, who evaluates the solar potential of the home, and then provides the home or business owner with a proposal. They then have until the end of July to decide whether or not they want to sign onto the program. While most residents may be skeptical of Wisconsin as a solar hotspot, Murphy assures them that the investment is worth it.
“As far as the amount of sunlight that reaches Wisconsin, we have a better solar window than Germany, [which] is basically the world leader in solar … We are perfectly positioned for solar,” Murphy said.
The organizers encourage residents and homeowners to come out and learn about Solar at the Solar Power hours starting this month and continuing through the summer, even if they are skeptical initially, to help them make an informed decision.