Wisconsin - Ken Walz remembers when Madison College installed the solar arrays on its Commercial Avenue campus in Madison about 10 years ago.
As head of the college’s Renewable Energy certificate program, Walz talks excitedly about how the program has grown since its inception in 2005.
“Enrollment in our program has been surging,” he says. “We actually, for the first time last spring, had a waitlist for our solar class. We had a waitlist for our solar installation class this summer and our classes this fall, as well.”
He has also seen changes in the program. After an initial focus on biofuels, the emphasis has shifted a great degree towards solar energy. Like many in the field, Walz believes the catalyst behind the trend is economics, a point highlighted by the planned expansion of the solar arrays at the campus.
“The price on both wind and solar has come down dramatically. I mentioned we installed these panels 10 years ago. If we installed them today, it would be a small fraction of the cost; about 80- to 90-percent less than when we put this in the ground. So, when we expand this facility, we’ll be able to get a lot more solar for a lot less money,” Walz says.
Rodney Heller knew installing solar panels on the roof of his business in Cottage Grove three years ago was the right thing to do.
“To save energy… why have the coal generation when you don’t have to?” Says Heller, managing partner on Energy Performance Lighting (EPL).
But, as the owner of a small business, the price of installing the panels also played a big part in the decision.
“Margins are always tight. There’s not a lot of business where you have fat margins. And to waste money doesn’t make sense… Because we own the building, it also increases the value of the property,” he says.
Heller was familiar with Focus on Energy and knew they might have incentives available to help offset the cost, so he called a representative of the program. He ended up taking advantage of Focus on Energy incentives and a federal tax break to have the solar panels installed on the roof of his 10,000-square-foot combination office and warehouse.
“What’s cool is the amount of money we save and generate off of the solar panels [means] that our system will pay for itself in 6 or 7 years,” Heller says.
EPL and Madison College are among the group of institutions, businesses and homeowners across the state opening their doors to the public this weekend for the Wisconsin Solar Tour, part of a nationwide solar tour effort. Some, like Madison College, have participated before.
“We’ve actually done this for a few years now, and it’s just a good opportunity to open up our campus to the community so people can come here and learn about solar technology. We get… all different folks walk through. Some just [want to] see what it looks like so they can envision what it would look like on their home. Others that are interested [want to know] how it works and want to learn about the nuts and bolts. And we get some people who show up because they [want to] pursue this as a career, as well.”
The tours are scheduled for October 6, the first Saturday in Energy Awareness Month. Locations for all tours in the state can be found here.
Learn more about Focus on Energy’s monetary incentives and other benefits for Wisconsin residents and business owners looking into renewable energy options at www.focusonenergy.com.