A new community solar initiative is being launched in southwestern Wisconsin, presenting an opportunity for low-income households to access the advantages of renewable energy.

The Bluff Prairie Community Solar Farm, spanning nearly nine acres in Vernon County, will soon begin generating power for Vernon Electric Cooperative. This cooperative serves several counties, including Vernon, La Crosse, Monroe, Juneau, Sauk, Richland, and Crawford.

The Vernon community solar project

Similar to other community solar projects in the state, individuals and businesses have the option to pay a fee for a panel and receive energy bill credits for the electricity generated.

However, Vernon Electric discovered from previous solar projects that not everyone interested can afford to participate. In response, the cooperative took steps to reduce upfront costs for the new solar array.

Through a partnership named Energize Wisconsin, over a quarter of the subscriptions for the new array will be allocated to low-income households within the cooperative.

To accomplish this, Couleecap, a regional poverty action agency, will utilize funds from the Public Service Commission’s Office of Energy Innovation to purchase 550 panel subscriptions. The energy credits generated by these panels will be distributed to eligible households within Vernon Electric Cooperative who qualify for the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program.

The number of subscribed panels per household will be determined based on their energy expenses. Low-income residents in the area typically allocate 15 to 30 percent of their income towards energy expenses. The higher the energy burden, the more panels a household will receive.

According to Wisconsin Public Radio, each panel is expected to produce approximately $56 in annual bill credits. Homeowners will not need to submit additional applications or pay extra fees, as the benefits will be automatically applied to their monthly bill.

The exact number of households that will qualify for the free panels is still being determined.

Community solar in Wisconsin

According to Hetti Brown, the executive director of Couleecap, the Vernon community solar project is the first in Wisconsin’s history to incorporate poverty reduction measures.

The Office of Energy Innovation has also provided funding for a similar collaboration between the West Central Wisconsin Community Action Agency and Pierce Pepin Electric Cooperative. This project is projected to become operational in the upcoming months. It will serve Pierce, Pepin, St. Croix, and Buffalo counties.

Governor Tony Evers attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Bluff Prairie solar array on Wednesday.

Brown mentioned that state funding has allowed Couleecap to secure panel subscriptions for a 10-year period. Couleecap plans to commence distribution of the new solar credits in January.

The Wisconsin State Legislature is currently deliberating Senate Bill 226, which would allow solar companies to own community solar projects in the state. Utilities own all of Wisconsin’s current community solar projects. Senate Bill 226 is unlikely to pass this fall, but it could be reintroduced next spring.

Image Source: Solar and Storage Industry, https://shorturl.at/bEV19