March 04. 2013 9:00AM

Bright incentives

By Molly Dill

  
The City of Milwaukee implemented its Milwaukee Shines program in 2009 to promote both solar manufacturing and installation while working to lower the costs. It piggybacks on the existing Milwaukee Energy Efficiency, or MeČ, program.
Amy Heart, Milwaukee solar program manager.

"The best application for solar is when it is combined with energy efficiency," said Amy Heart, solar program for Milwaukee Shines. "By combining energy efficiency and solar, not only is the energy bill lowered, but the owner is investing in a set price for clean energy moving forward."

Milwaukee Shines has seen a lot of interest in the program from nonprofits, schools and churches. Corporate businesses, on the other hand, take longer to make a decision on a project that requires such a large upfront investment.

Heart works to convince them that solar energy is a business planning tool that can help them predict their costs going forward.

Since 2011, the city has approved $3.8 million of energy efficiency incentives to support $13.1 million worth of projects on 141 commercial buildings, including large properties such as the Wells Building on East Wisconsin Avenue, City Center at 735 N. Water St. and Alverno College.

Milwaukee Shines and Me² recently started offering solar incentives for Milwaukee homeowners and financing assistance for Milwaukee businesses. The combination of programs aims to create stability for businesses and homeowners.

A residential installation is usually between two and four kilowatts and costs between $10,000 and $15,000, Heart said. Business installations are usually about 20 kw, but can be much larger.

City of Milwaukee residents who own homes up to three units that have already completed or started a Me² energy efficiency project are eligible for a $2,000 incentive.

On the commercial side, the city offers three financing options.

Small business financing is available for energy efficiency and solar projects between $5,000 and $20,000 through a partnership with Madison-based Summit Credit Union.

Smart security financing helps fund projects between $10,000 and $1 million with a reserve account funded by Me² to protect the financial institution from default. The upfront collateral can prove helpful, since solar is a newer technology and financial institutions are still wary of lending for solar projects, Heart said.

Finally, clean energy financing is offered for energy efficiency and solar upgrade projects ranging from $20,000 to $5 million. Project costs are passed on to building tenants through a municipal special charge by the City of Milwaukee. In this case, tenants' savings outweigh the charge.

At the state level, Wisconsin provides incentives for both businesses and homeowners who install solar projects through its Focus on Energy program.

The program had its most successful year in more than a decade of existence in 2012.

"The modifications and program expansions we made in 2012 have set the groundwork for continued growth and success in 2013 and beyond," said William Haas, program director for Focus on Energy. "From homeowners and renters to small business owners and large energy users, Focus on Energy develops and implements creative and effective energy programs that benefit a wide range of customers."

Focus on Energy, funded by a charge on Wisconsin utility users' bills, offers $600 per kilowatt of D.C. power for homeowners who produce at least 0.5 KWDC. The maximum reward is $2,400.

Residential solar hot water users are offered 35 cents per kilowatt hour of energy saved for systems with auxiliary electric resistance. For solar hot water systems using auxiliary natural gas, the payback is $6 per Therms saved. Both have a $1,200 cap.

For businesses, Focus on Energy offers a competitive award through a request for proposal application process for those who are customers of a participating electric and natural gas utility.

Both solar thermal and solar photovoltaic users can apply for an incentive between $5,000 and $100,000 for a project that costs $1 million or less.

The application requirements can be found on the organization's website, www.focusonenergy.com. The application deadline for 2013 projects, which also includes other renewable energy, is March 8.

All solar installation projects are also eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit.

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