Solar energy at Dane County airport cleared for takeoff

Solar energy at Dane County airport cleared for takeoff

The Public Service Commission this week signed off on the newest solar farm slated for construction this year in Dane County. This solar power plant will cover 58 acres at the northern end of Dane County Regional Airport, and will involve more than 31,000 panels mounted on single-axis tracking systems. Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) will own and operate the solar plant, and expects to complete construction in the fourth quarter of 2020.

MGE’s solar field is noteworthy in that it will produce clean electricity for only one customer: Dane County. This will be the first example in Wisconsin of an offsite solar project dedicated to a single customer, albeit one with multiple facilities in MGE territory.

Through a long-term contract with MGE, Dane County will purchase the project’s output to offset its own purchases of grid-supplied electricity over the course of the facility’s 30-year-plus life. At nine megawatts (MW), the facility should produce on average 18 million kilowatt-hours a year. All told, the solar farm’s output should equate to about 40% of the electricity consumed at county-owned facilities served by MGE.

The PSC decision contained two separate approvals. First, the agency approved the power purchase agreement between MGE and Dane County, which is provided through the utility’s Renewable Energy Rider service. Under the contract, Dane County will pay 5.8 cents/kWh for electricity generated in the first year of operation, which will result in immediate savings. That price will escalate 2% per year over the contract’s term, which should track closely with anticipated increases in utility energy costs. After 30 years, Dane County will have paid off MGE’s entire investment.

The PSC also authorized the expenditure of $16 million to permit, build, and operate the solar field at the airport. The installed cost of the project equates to $1.78/watt, in line with other, smaller utility-owned projects such as MGE’s 5 MW facility now under construction at Middleton’s Morey Field.

Dane County is the third MGE customer to take service from an offsite solar array built under the Renewable Energy Rider service, following in the footsteps of the City of Middleton and the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School district. Those two customers have committed to purchase the output from a combined 1.5 MW share of the Morey Field solar array, which should commence operations in June 2020.

Notwithstanding its voluntary nature, MGE’s Renewable Energy Rider program has proven to be an attractive option for local governments that have adopted aggressive clean energy goals but are limited in their capacity to host solar systems on all their facilities. Later this year, MGE will file an application to build a 7 MW solar farm to serve the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As with Dane County, MGE is the electric provider for many facilities owned by the City and MMSD. The solar array will be located near the Dane County Landfill in southeast Madison.

 

How to Select a Solar Contractor

How to Select a Solar Contractor

With solar energy becoming more popular and affordable, new solar firms are pursuing business in Wisconsin. While this competition is good for our solar energy market, it also offers opportunities for “bad actor” solar companies to take advantage of customers.

There have been several instances where Wisconsin homeowners have been exploited by dishonest solar firms. In 2019, customers in southeast Wisconsin were left with incomplete projects after a Utah-based company failed to complete their solar arrays. The customers are now looking at payments for solar systems that are not fully connected.

In 2018, another solar firm failed to complete dozens of projects in Minnesota and Wisconsin and defrauded homeowners out of over $1 million. In many cases, the company neglected to do any work whatsoever, and were simply collecting down payments from hopeful customers.

Burke O’Neal of Full Spectrum Solar in Madison, Wisconsin says that homeowners should exercise caution if they are solicited for a home solar energy system. “Customers should look for installer experience and expertise,” said O’Neal. “Make sure your company has appropriate licenses and insurance. And look for a company with an office, trucks, and a warehouse.” 

“We never ask for more than $1,000 to $2,000 as a down payment, depending on the size of the project,” added O’Neal. “If a company is asking for big payments upfront, that’s a pretty serious red flag.”

As renewable energy advocates, RENEW is disheartened to know the promise of solar energy is occasionally being used to deceive homeowners. These stories have the potential to do long-lasting damage to Wisconsin’s network of solar contractors.

If you’re considering solar power for your home, here are some guidelines:

  • Contact several reputable solar contractors. It can be difficult to know who is reputable and who is not. You can begin by looking at our map here at RENEW Wisconsin or this list from Midwest Renewable Energy Association, but don’t necessarily limit yourself to these lists.
  • Obtain at least three proposals. This will help you choose the best system and price for your needs.
  • Cross check your contractors with a third-party rating system. The Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs Office, Angie’s List, or other independent reviews should provide insight on the kinds of companies you’re dealing with.
  • Find out if your contractors have a license to work in your area and if they have a licensed electrician on staff. Ideally, you’ll want to choose a NABCEP-certified contractor.
  • Do more research. Talk to other homeowners who have gone through the process and ask your contractor these basic questions:
    • How long have you been in business?
    • How many systems have you installed?
    • What warranties on labor and materials are offered?
    • Who will I contact if there’s a problem?
    • American Solar Energy Society has also drafted a list of 40 questions to ask your solar installer.
  • Select a proposal and have your contractor issue you a contract. Examine the financials of the contract. Make sure the total price, payment schedule, and cancellation policy are spelled out in detail and that you understand all the warranties offered.
  • If your solar contractor can’t answer your questions, or if you’re unsure about the process in general, please contact us at RENEW Wisconsin.

A home solar system is a major purchase, and it’s important to take the time to make the right decision for yourself and your home. The process may feel overwhelming, but following the above guidelines will help ensure you’re choosing the right company for the job.

If you have had a bad experience with a solar contractor, please contact us at RENEW Wisconsin.

COVID-19 Resources for Wisconsin Solar Contractors

COVID-19 Resources for Wisconsin Solar Contractors

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in many extraordinary measures to be taken by the federal, state, and local governments such as the “Safer at Home” order prohibiting groups of people from gathering and prohibiting some businesses from operating that pose a high risk of exposing their clientele to infections. These measures have resulted in a major impact on businesses in general and the solar industry in particular.

As a new affiliate of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) we will be bringing you updates that they they are able to share on the COVID 19 issue as well.  There is a lot of information there, but check out these webpages first:

SEIA: Permitting Options for Solar Installations During the COVID-19 Outbreak
SEIA: Guidance for Solar Installers, EPCs and O&M Service Providers on Managing Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

In Wisconsin, the construction industry, including solar, has been determined to be an “essential business” for the life-safety and infrastructure support benefits that it provides. Since this is new for everyone, the rules and guidance for how to operate in this environment are being created and amended regularly.

The leading solar and construction industry trade associations have developed excellent resources with FAQ’s on many of the important questions that contractors have such as:

Can contractors work inside buildings as well as outside?
Yes, but all essential businesses, to the greatest extent possible, are encouraged to use personal protective equipment where appropriate, use technology to avoid meeting in person when possible and engage in social distancing.

Do I need documentation to prove that I’m an “essential worker?”           (ABC of Wisconsin)
Essential workers do not need documentation to prove they are essential, according to state agency staff. Police are generally not going to be stopping individuals and asking for proof. In some rare instances, construction employees have been asked to provide documentation to prove they are essential and exempt from the “safer at home” order. While not required, it may be helpful and prudent to provide your employees with a letter explaining their exemption from the emergency order.

Do I need to request any type of exemption for my business?                   (ABC of Wisconsin)
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which is the government agency charged with determining whether businesses are “essential,” has indicated that if your type of business is listed (i.e. construction) there is no need to get a designation to become exempt; you are already included under exempt. If your business type is listed as essential, there is no further action required.

Am I required to have written COVID-19 response plan? (ABC of Wisconsin)
While it is not explicitly required in the state’s order, the WEDC encourages each business to develop a written COVID-19 response plan that is unique to each individual business and type of work being done. 

If someone is positive with COVID-19, do I have to record in on my OSHA log? (ABC of Wisconsin)
Most likely, no. As an employer, you should determine whether there was any exposure that occurred in the work environment that caused or contributed to the test positive. As a practical matter, it is very difficult to do this and not practical to ascertain there was exposure on the worksite. OSHA would have to prove that the employee testing positive was work-related. If you have a COVID-19 case that results in a fatality or in-patient hospitalization, you would want to call OSHA. You would also likely be engaged with your local health department if this were to occur.

What steps should I be taking as a contractor employer?                             (ABC of Wisconsin)
Under the “General Duty” clause from OSHA, employers are to provide a safe and healthy workplace free from hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.  Employers should follow the recommendations for the number of employees on a particular worksite and instruct employees on the practice of social distancing, or ensuring employees keep a six foot distance between one another while working. Employees should not share tools.

Employers should remind employees to take basic, preventative measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus at the workplace, including these recommendations:

   • Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
   • avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth;
   • covering sneezes or coughs with tissues, if possible, or else with a sleeve or shoulder;
   • avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
   • staying home when sick; and
   • cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects.

Employers should provide adequate supplies in the workplace for employees to follow these recommended practices.

CDC guidelines for protecting employees
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html 

ABC of Wisconsin Jobs Ambassador Rebecca Kleefisch discusses how contractors are addressing job site and employee safety and not taking lightly the declaration that construction is an “essential service” in Wisconsin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebRAC98RuAk&t=53s


The following websites are currently open to the public and you don’t have to be a member of the associations to access these resources.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin
www.abcwi.org/covid-19-updates

Wisconsin Builders Association
www.wisbuild.org/news-1/covid19

Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin
www.agcwi.org/covid-19.html

Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee
agc-gm.org/uncategorized/coronavirus/
agc-gm.org/news/agc-of-gm-covid-19-documents/
agc-gm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID-19-Recommended-Practices.JointAGC.docx

Construction Coalition Issues Joint Statement on Jobsite Safety During COVID-19 outbreak:
“Fifteen labor and management organizations in Wisconsin committed to the health, safety and welfare of our workforce and the public by issuing specific mitigation strategies to combat the COVID-19 outbreak on jobsites.”

State of Wisconsin COVID-19 Information Webpage
govstatus.egov.com/wi-covid-19

Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
dsps.wi.gov/pages/Home.aspx


We will bring you further updates as they develop. If you have specific questions please contact Jim Boullion, RENEW Wisconsin’s Director of Government Affairs at jim@renewwisconsin.org or by cell phone at (608) 695-7004.

RENEW Wisconsin Joins SEIA’s National Affiliate Network

RENEW Wisconsin Joins SEIA’s National Affiliate Network

Press release from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)


WASHINGTON, D.C. and MADISON, Wis. – The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade association for the U.S. solar energy industry, announced today that RENEW Wisconsin is now a formal SEIA state affiliate.

RENEW Wisconsin becomes the 18th SEIA state affiliate.

“We are thrilled to welcome RENEW Wisconsin to our network and we look forward to collaborating on policy efforts that get the state’s solar market moving again,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “As we work toward recovery from COVID-19, Wisconsin has the potential to become a regional solar leader and generate thousands of new jobs for hard-working people in the state.”

Today, Wisconsin is ranked 34th nationally with 209 megawatts of installed solar electric generating capacity. There are nearly 3,000 solar jobs in the state and those jobs are at risk as a result of the global pandemic.

“RENEW Wisconsin is excited to build our network as a new SEIA Affiliate,” said Heather Allen, Interim Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “Our SEIA partners around the country are an invaluable resource as we protect renewable energy now and find opportunities to advance renewable energy in Wisconsin when this health crisis is over. Investments in solar power will keep vital dollars and family-sustaining jobs in our communities, and offer cleaner, healthier air for all of Wisconsin.”

RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization that promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. The group works on policies and programs that expand solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, geothermal energy and electric vehicles. Since 1991 RENEW Wisconsin has been a champion for clean energy solutions in the Badger State.

SEIA has developed strategic partnerships with numerous state and regional advocacy non-profits, known as SEIA Affiliates. These organizations have demonstrated leadership on policy and regulatory matters, actively engaged with the solar industry in their respective territories and offered grassroots support for SEIA’s federal campaigns, among other accomplishments. We are proud to call them our partners in growing the U.S. solar industry.

To see a map of the current SEIA affiliates across the country, visit www.seia.org/affiliates.

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About SEIA®:
The Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA) is leading the transformation to a clean energy economy, creating the framework for solar to achieve 20% of U.S. electricity generation by 2030. SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies and other strategic partners to fight for policies that create jobs in every community and shape fair market rules that promote competition and the growth of reliable, low-cost solar power. Founded in 1974, SEIA is a national trade association building a comprehensive vision for the Solar+ Decade through research, education and advocacy. Visit SEIA online at www.seia.org.

Clean Air Can Stay

Clean Air Can Stay

It’s been two weeks since Governor Evers’ Safer at Home Order came into effect. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by COVID-19 and those working to keep our communities safe and healthy.

This “new normal” means vehicles are staying parked, stores are temporarily closed, and the way we use energy is changing dramatically. In many large cities normally plagued with air pollution, it means unprecedented blue skies and fresh air. Experts predict this flow of fresh air will only be temporary, but here at RENEW, we are working toward a future where our air is always clean. We know this reality can be achieved with more renewable power and electrified transportation.

Less Travel Means Cleaner Skies

From China to Chicago, air quality has improved exponentially since stay-at-home orders were initiated. In Chicago, the nitrous oxide levels in the air have decreased dramatically, and it’s estimated that the improved air quality in Wuhan, China has saved 50,000 lives. All over the internet you can find pictures of the Venice canals and Los Angeles Valley looking cleaner than we’ve seen in decades.

We are by no means doing a cost-benefit analysis on the coronavirus impacts – the devastating impacts of this novel virus will be felt for years to come. However, it can be a useful and important reminder that clean air is better and possible for everyone. There is mounting evidence that poor air quality can actually make people more susceptible to catch COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, and it could make treatment more complicated too.

Clean Energy Makes Resilient Communities

This newfound clean air can stay. Clean energy technologies like the ones RENEW has been touting for decades have the ability to keep our air clean and our communities safe. Electric vehicles don’t have a tailpipe; they operate without producing emissions in densely populated areas. Clean power generation means areas near power plants no longer suffer the negative health impacts of fossil fuel emissions.

When our health is secure and we start to rebuild our economy, it’s important that we lock in the benefits that clean air can offer us. Now, more than ever, we need to prioritize the public health benefits of accessible, affordable, clean and safe energy.