Focus on Energy: Solar Electric Systems Make Sense in Rural Wisconsin


Niels Wolter


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Niels Wolter, Focus on Energy

The sun is often one of the first sources one might consider for renewable energy. It is different from a wind energy system, which requires a carefully selected site to catch the wind, because most open area land sites can successfully host a solar electric system (also known as photovoltaic or PV systems).

Solar electric systems offer many benefits. Unlike utility power, the cost of the electricity generated by the solar electric system will never increase. Solar electric systems let you avoid future price shocks. An investment today will allow you to reduce your monthly bill for years to come. You can even use your solar panels to produce all of your electricity needs. A renewable energy system is best installed after you become energy-efficient first. Typically, a dollar spent on energy efficiency investments can reduce a system’s cost by five dollars or more. By meeting some or all of your needs from solar power, your home becomes more self-supporting.

Maintenance needed for a photovoltaic system varies based on the type of system you have. A fixed system, where the only moving parts are the electrons, requires almost no maintenance. The more moving parts added to your system, the greater number of components to check up on.

Solar electric systems can also add to the appraised value of your property, but not the assessed value for property tax purposes. State law prohibits solar systems from being included in the assessed value of property, thus avoiding increased property taxes when you install a system. One study found that reducing a home’s electricity bill by $100 per year increases the appraised value by $2000, a 20 to 1 relationship.

More people should take into consideration what role solar electric systems will play in the future of energy generation. By being an advocate of renewable and solar energy, you may help realize a greener solar future for Wisconsin.

The Environment: reducing emissions

Coal-burning power plants produce most of Wisconsin’s electricity and release pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, mercury, and carbon dioxide. Recent information released by Clear the Air, a national public education campaign to improve air quality, estimated the number and cost of premature deaths from coal fired power is 6.6 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), almost doubling what we pay for power if it were added to our bills.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, every lake in Wisconsin has mercury warnings. Coal-fired power plants are the main source of that mercury.

Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants burning coal and natural gas contribute to global warming climate changes. Every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of Wisconsin-generated power would require 110 square feet of Wisconsin forests to absorb that carbon. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide production far exceeds our forests’ capacity to absorb the carbon and keep it out of the atmosphere.

Over the twenty-five-year life of a solar electric system, it will produce electricity at a price of 15 to 25 cents per kWh, or about two to three times what Wisconsin utilities currently charge for their power. Environmental benefits tip the scales in favor of a solar electric system, and solar electricity will provide a decidedly inexpensive option if fossil fuels continue their rise in price.

Focus on Energy is a public-private partnership offering energy information and services to energy utility customers throughout Wisconsin. The goals of this program are to encourage energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, enhance the environment, and ensure the future supply of energy for Wisconsin. For more information, call 800.762.7077 or visit