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Bright Outlook for Solar Power in Wisconsin

More and more solar panels, like these installed at the Governor's Mansion in Madison, appeared in Wisconsin in 2015. (wisconsin.gov)
More and more solar panels, like these installed at the Governor's Mansion in Madison, appeared in Wisconsin in 2015. (wisconsin.gov)
February 22, 2016

MADISON, Wis. – There were three times more solar-power installations in Wisconsin in 2015 than any previous year, and the outlook for this year is also positive, says Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin.

Statewide, 7.5 megawatts of solar power were put in place in the Badger State. Huebner says that's enough to power a thousand homes, and represents a huge leap forward in solar-power use.

"And we saw utilities get involved with programs called Community Solar, where their customers can actually own parts of a larger solar array," says Huebner. "We saw a lot of businesses go solar; and we saw growth across government, nonprofit and residential sectors as well."

According to Huebner, one driving force behind the increase is that solar-power costs have dropped by 60 percent in the past six years.

He predicts the trend in increased solar usage is likely to continue, with utilities as a big part of the story this year. For example, Dairyland Power Cooperative is looking at adding up to 25 megawatts of solar capacity.

"That's about as much solar as we have in Wisconsin today, that we've installed in the last 30 years," says Huebner. "We're expecting a lot of that 25 megawatts to be in Wisconsin – maybe not all of it, but that announcement could really boost solar even bigger in 2016."

He notes there are a number of challenges to be overcome for solar to flourish. Falling gas prices could actually be hurting the implementation of renewables, because people are less likely to want electric cars when gas-powered vehicles are less expensive.

He says one of the most interesting developments is leasing solar panels - which hasn't yet come to Wisconsin.

"You wouldn't have to pay up front for the solar panels - you could work with companies that would put solar panels on your roof or on your property, and you could pay them back over time as you use the electricity, as opposed to having to spend a larger chunk of money up front. Those policies would really help the solar market grow."

Huebner adds most Wisconsinites use solar panels to offset the cost of other, non-renewable energy sources. However, solar power still represents less than one-percent of the state's total energy usage.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI