In America’s Dairyland there’s a saying that where there’s milk, there’s cheese. Or is it that where there’s a Milwaukeean, there’s a brew?
Either way, such an obvious cause-and-effect isn’t something we at Solar Nation think applies to the sun and solar power.
That’s because some of the nation’s top solar states aren’t really renowned for the need to slap on the sunscreen.
Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey—they all rank in the top 7 for installed solar PV capacity.
Between they have over 3,000 MW solar capacity. That’s an awful lot of shiny-blue panels harnessing the sun’s awesome power.
Here in the land of milk and beer, we get just as much sunshine as those three Nor’easters.
So there’s obviously enough of that free energy falling down from the sky for Wisconsin to make a giant leap forward in solar.
The difference between Wisconsin and Massachusetts is all in the cheerleading.
Massachusetts has its state government square behind the clean energy revolution.
Wisconsin has dithered a little. Especially since it became a swing state, and solar something of a political football.
That said, if you’re looking to milk the sun for all that sweet solar energy, things are still quite bright in the Badger State.
Especially as there’s a raft of decent incentives available, if you know where to look.
We do. Or rather we know the guys that do.
Of course, there are a few things to get straight before you can thank the sun for lightening your utility bills.
Like, whether to buy your panels out-right? Whether to sign up for a lease? Whether to look at off-grid options?
And to help you answer those questions—and decide the route best for you—here at Solar Nation we’ve put together a low-down on the highlights for solar options Wisconsin.
Let’s start with a run-down of the numbers for the simplest choice: buying those PV panels for yourself
Wisconsin Solar Power: Check your Savings, Costs, Tax Breaks, Incentives and Rebates
Return on Investment for Residential Solar Power in Wisconsin
We wouldn’t go as far as to say cash is king for solar power.
But if you’ve already got a fistful of dollars, then buying the panels outright is the best way to maximize your total dollar savings. And you might be surprised just how much your roof can earn you, once it’s solar-enabled—and for how long.
Most roofs in the state will easily fit a mid-sized system of 5kW of solar panels.
And once they’re secured up there, they’ll be producing you home-spun electricity for decades.
PV panels are usually warrantied out to 25 years. But that’s selling them short—experts reckon your panels could be powering you home for 30 years or more.
But let’s stick to a 25-year time frame. It’s more than long enough.
Ready for your jaw to drop?
Placed on a south-facing roof of a house in the Milwaukee suburbs, we reckon they could earn you nearly $30k in savings, over 25 years!
Or to put it in the sober language that your financial advisor would like, that’s more than a8% rate of return.
Either way, there’ll be big fat smiles on faces all around. And that’s before we even start looking at the other side of the equation—tax credits, rebates and other incentives you might get.
Let’s see how the rest of those numbers pan out.
Buying a 5KW Solar System—a Wisconsin case study
Costs for installing solar PV panels have come down fast in the last few years. Where once you might have been looking at $20,000 for a 5kW solar system, today it’s closer to $15,000.
1. Well, an average of 18 kWh of clean, green electricity per day, for starters. 2. In your first year that comes to 6,550 kWh of clean power your roof has made for you. 3. Given an average Wisconsinite only uses 8,400 kWh, that’s almost 80% off your bill! 4. And your emissions are slashed too, by 5 tons of CO2 per year 5. That’s like planting 130 trees each and every year your system’s running
1. Well, an average of 18 kWh of clean, green electricity per day, for starters.
2. In your first year that comes to 6,550 kWh of clean power your roof has made for you.
3. Given an average Wisconsinite only uses 8,400 kWh, that’s almost 80% off your bill!
4. And your emissions are slashed too, by 5 tons of CO2 per year
5. That’s like planting 130 trees each and every year your system’s running
Good for your bank balance, great for Wisconsin’s air quality, and pretty fantastic for our planet!
But what about that $15,000 outlay?
1. Start with your $15,000 sticker price, before tax. 2. Now,Wisconsin has 5% sale tax. But that’s not for your panels .You’ll dodge $750 thanks to the state’s solar sale tax exemption. 3. Then there’s the federal Income Tax Credit (ITC) your solar system qualifies for. At 30% that brings us down to $10k net cost. 4. Your first year will also see $850 lopped off of your utility bill. 5. Lastly, if you qualify for the state’s rebate program, another $2,400 comes off 6. That would leave you with a net $7,250 in those first 12 months.
1. Start with your $15,000 sticker price, before tax.
2. Now,Wisconsin has 5% sale tax. But that’s not for your panels .You’ll dodge $750 thanks to the state’s solar sale tax exemption.
3. Then there’s the federal Income Tax Credit (ITC) your solar system qualifies for. At 30% that brings us down to $10k net cost.
4. Your first year will also see $850 lopped off of your utility bill.
5. Lastly, if you qualify for the state’s rebate program, another $2,400 comes off
6. That would leave you with a net $7,250 in those first 12 months.
1. Over our 25-year timeframe, if your utility bill never rose once, you’d save $21,200. 2. Much more likely is that rates rise by 3% a year, as they’ve done in the past. 3. That’s when your savings pile really jumps—to just over $29,000! 4. Your home will see a similar boost in its value. And the great news is that, here in Wisconsin, that extra value isn’t counted for your property tax.
1. Over our 25-year timeframe, if your utility bill never rose once, you’d save $21,200.
2. Much more likely is that rates rise by 3% a year, as they’ve done in the past.
3. That’s when your savings pile really jumps—to just over $29,000!
4. Your home will see a similar boost in its value. And the great news is that, here in Wisconsin, that extra value isn’t counted for your property tax.
Numbers as sweet as dairy-fresh cream and tasty as the local Limburger, we say.
Wisconsin Solar Power Incentives, Tax Breaks and Rebates
With costs falling hugely in the last decade, solar PV is becoming a real goer in the Badger State. That’s even without looking at what the state government has done to fast-forward things.
Wisconsin’s incentives, tax breaks and rebates are admittedly a bit of a mixed bag.
And the clouds are gathering over some of the pro-solar measures the state has introduced. But there’s still plenty that’s positive, and they make going solar even more attractive.
The worry is that they won’t last forever, thanks to a drip-drip-drip of undermining efforts in the legislature.
But let’s run through what’s on offer, so you get a better picture of how solar will work for you once your system is installed.
The state got off to an excellent—and groundbreaking—start back in 1999, when it passed on of the first RPS targets in the country. The goal was for 10% of all electricity to be from renewable energy sources.
Then in 2010, the rules were toughened and a new date set to meet the target—2015.
So far so good. But things went a little too well. The target was hit and surpassed well before 2015, in 2013.
The problem is that, since then, the legislature hasn’t been able to agree a replacement. So Wisconsin is on something of a holding pattern with its RPS.
And with no push from the state to green their electricity, growth in renewables like solar power has slowed.
What is an RPS really?
You’ll often hear the letters ‘RPS’ thrown about when talking about solar energy. But what exactly is a ‘Renewable Portfolio Standard’?
Basically, it’s a state law setting binding targets for clean energy. RPS have been really useful in getting the utilities to take renewable energy generation seriously.
When a state sets an RPS target, it’s saying that utilities must generate a certain amount of their electricity from renewable sources, usually by a certain date. If not, they’ll be fined.
After all, power companies need a push.
Most still make money selling us more and more energy. They’re not best pleased that we’re starting to generate our own power.
They avoid the fine, and you get the low-cost solar power. Without an RPS, utilities are less likely to help with solar or wind power for their customers.
Wisconsin tax credit
There’s no state income tax credit (ITC) in Wisconsin.
But you’re still free to claimthe federal ITC. You should, as at your 30% of your installation’s costs, it’s a doozy of money-saver, felling the cost of a solar system in one swoop.
Are there any Rebates for Solar Power in Wisconsin?
This is where things get interesting.
In 2011 the state’s Focus on Energy program was introduced. It requires utilities to put aside 1% or so of their revenues to promote clean energy, like solar.
One of things that’s part of that program is a rebate scheme. You get $600 paid back for every kW of solar power you install—up to a maximum of $2,400.
One sour note is that the rebate comes from a fixed pool of cash, which isreset each year. In 2015 it was set to $1 million for residential customers. It’s first-come first-served, too, which means getting your claim in early is important.
Wisconsin Tax Exemptions
Wisconsin does really well with its tax exemptions.
It’s not unusual for states to tax–exempt things that are good for the health of its citizens. Like solar power panels, for example.
They cut harmful air pollution that causes health issues. They make our energy supplies more secure, and home-grown.
The other tax exemption often on offer is for property tax. It’s needed because converting to solar power is a unique kind of home improvement—one that in effect prints the owner money. That adds a huge value to your home.
It would be a real pity if you were taxed extra as a result. After all,you’ve added a power system that does so much for the common good.
Wisconsin agrees—any extra value your system added to your home is exempt from property tax.
Wisconsin Electricity Rates
Electricity costs in Wisconsin been edging ahead of the rest of the U.S over the last decade. In 2015 the state-wide average was 14.4 cents per kWh. The average U.S. family pays out only 12.6 c/kWh to power their homes.
Those relatively high rates mean switching to solar is more pressing, as your savings will be all the greater. But more worrying is the trend. Wisconsin’s utility rates were once the same as the U.S. average. Since 2004 they have soared by nearly 60%, overtaking the national rate.
That’s a 6% increase per year.
Which is why delaying the move to solar is so risky—you’ll continue to be hit by yearly utility rate rises.
Is there Net Metering in Wisconsin?
Net metering in Wisconsin is a bit hit and miss.
On the one hand,investor-owned and municipal utilities have to provide you with a Net Metering scheme by law.But if you’re the customer of an electric cooperative, there’s no such requirement.
Equally, each scheme is implemented a little differently by each utility. Most often you’ll receive credits at your retail rate, but some utilities offer less.
But only if it’s worth more than $25.
Still, that’s what we like to see—the power company sending you a check!
Then we’ll put you in touch with Wisconsin installers.
What's net metering anyways?
Oh yes, we should probably explain. Net metering is a vital part of making solar power work for homeowners.
Done properly, it means none of your solar energy is wasted—even when the power you generate, and the power you use, aren’t exactly balanced.
That’s important because the electricity your system produces varies as the sun moves round the sky. When the sun is highest in summer you may actually produce more electricity than you use. Under net metering, that extra power gets sent to the grid. And you become the power station for the utility.
Under a proper Net Metering scheme, the utility has to pay you for the energy you’re supplying to them.
Most often this is at the retail electricity rate, the rate you normally pay them. And it allows for rollovers of credits from one month to the next—or even year to year.
Are there 0 down payment financing Options in Wisconsin?
Yes, but there’s not a complete range of pay-nothing-now choices in Wisconsin. Strange to say, but it’s because it’s actually against the law to be a third-party supplier of energy here.
What you can do instead is to take out a solar loan with no down-payment.
The alternative solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs)—where a third-party supplies your power—can’t happen here.
That’s a real shame.
Elsewhere in the U.S. it has been leases and PPAs that have driven forward rates of adoption of solar.
With them you can power your home with the sun without needing cash in hand. Or getting into debt or having onerous credit checks run. Plus, all the hassles of ownership fall onto that third-party.
Huge numbers of homeowners across the USA have switched onto solar as a result.But in here in Wisconsin you’ll just have to rely on solar loans alone. That doesn’t have to be a problem, though, especially if you can tap the equity in your home to get lower rates.
Let’s run quickly through the different types of zero-down solar schemes, so you can understand what all the fuss is about in other states.
Solar Power Loan?
This zero-down option is a great way to be solar powered, without having to raid your cash savings. It also keeps you in-charge.
You’ll own your solar panels, and can choose whether to make a small initial payment, or no payment at all.
Solar loans aren’t just for the cash-poor. They can provide better rates of return than an outright purchase—especially if you can tap the low rates of a home-equity line of credit.
Solar Lease in Wisconsin?
Leasing would work wonders for those who can’t tap the equity in their home for a loan. Or those who can’t access the upfront cash for a purchase. A lease would let you put $0 down, get those panels on your roof, and then watch the savings roll in.
The savings wouldn’t be as impressive as using your own money.
But as we’ve said, the law in Wisconsin doesn’t let you take his option yet. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time.
PPA Option on Wisconsin?
This is the other approach for going solar with no (or little) upfront cost. PPAs are similar to leases, but rather than paying a fee to lease the panels from a third-party, you’re only paying for the power that they produce.
No hassles of ownership. No worries about performance. And no big down-payments. Wonderful!
Except that, again,Wisconsin’s law stops you from using the services of a third-party energy supplier. It’s power the utility’s way, or no power at all.
What is PPA?
A Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA, is an agreement between you and your solar panel provider. You provide them with the roof for the panels. They provide you with power at a guaranteed price.
Like a lease, you could benefit from solar power without worrying about details like planning, installation, equipment upgrades, maintenance, and cleaning.
Most PPAs also have an option for you to buy the system at the end of the contract, which can add value to your home.
One thing to look out for is the PPA price escalator. This is where the PPA price rises gradually throughout your PPA contract, according to an agreed schedule.
These escalators are a reasonable way for the solar panel company to take gradual performance and maintenance issues into account over its lifetime.
But you don’t need to worry about them, of course. PPAs are not happening here in the Badger State any time soon.
Is there Feed In Tariff in Wisconsin?
The long answer: once upon a time there were schemes that were similar to Feed In Tariffs. They were called parallel generation agreements, and offered by 2 of the state’s utilities. Then they became fully subscribed. Every-one on them lived happily ever after. Every-one else cast envious glances their way.
The short answer: no.
Loans vs Purchase: What's best for West Virginia Homeowners?
As with many things, the choice between a loan and a purchase depends on how you see risk and reward. And on how much skin you want in the solar game.
A loan works well for the risk adverse. For those who want to help clean up our energy, and cut pollution, but without taking on the hassles (and big initial outlay) of purchase.
At the moment, in West Virginia, rates of return are pretty good.
So if you have the cash, purchasing those panels will reap the biggest savings overall.
A solar loan will let you earn savings with little (or nothing) down, which effectively boosts the rate of return.
But remember that, because of the loan payments, your overall savings will be somewhat less.
What is the Solar Panel Installation Process in Wisconsin?
The solar installation process starts with home visit by an energy assessment team. They’ll talk to you about your bills, how best to site your system, and the financial options available and advice about what is the best solar panel for you.
Once they’ve got the measure of your place, and found out exactly what your needs are, they’ll be provide you with a fully detailed PV quote.
This will highlight potential tax rebates, breaks, and incentives that may be available to you.
They’ll also give you detailed breakdown of the savings you can expect to make.
Once you’ve agreed and signed your agreement, the solar installation team can schedule a date for transforming your house from energy sink into a solar-powered energy producer!
The installation process usually only takes three to four days.
1. Fill in our simple solar form 2. Receive quotes from the best local solar suppliers 3. Choose the best money-saving solar option for you 4. Once your system is installed, just sit back, relax—and watch the savings roll in
1. Fill in our simple solar form
2. Receive quotes from the best local solar suppliers
3. Choose the best money-saving solar option for you
4. Once your system is installed, just sit back, relax—and watch the savings roll in
Wisconsin has all the makings of a becoming a solar power heavy weight. Even if it isn’t as blessed with the stuff as some.
And while its incentives aren’t as generous as some, either, they’re more than enough to make the economics of home-made solar power particularly bright.
The trick is to get in there before the rug gets pulled away, by the more grumpy parts of the political establishment.
It’s not just about the money saved or incentives earned,though.
Because, asthe state’s electricity production today is so coal-heavy—and so high on pollution—those going solar are doing their bit to clean the state’s air, too. That will improve the health of us all.
When you think about it, it’s amazing what can be started with the application of a few silicon panels to your roof.
Maybe now is the time to get that milk-wagon rolling in the Diary State.