Renewable energy is easy to like because it is good for people and the environment. Any business or residential consumer can install a renewable energy system – solar electric, solar water heating or wind. The obvious question for most is "Where do I start?"
Use the steps below as a guide to take you through the project.
1. Learn all about the options.
You can begin by visiting the Focus on Energy Web site at www.focusonenergy.com or call the Focus on Energy information center at 1-800-762-7077. You might want to take a workshop from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). The workshops cover everything from tips on living with renewable energy to wiring solar electric panels. You can find the MREA course catalog at www.the-mrea.org.
2. Get a site assessment.
To find out if you have a good location for a renewable energy installation, contact Focus on Energy to arrange for a site assessment. An assessment will bring an expert to your site, provide you with a basic analysis of your energy needs, evaluate the renewable energy resources at your location, provide energy efficient recommendations and make a recommendation on a renewable energy system. In addition, a site assessment provides information on the best place to locate a system and offers a general cost estimate – all summarized in a report.
3. Check zoning, utility requirements, insurance and other legalities.
Your installation will need to comply with the zoning and building codes of the county, city, village or town where the installation will be. You do not need to get the permits until you are ready to do the work, but you should know the requirements before you make decisions about your project. Many installers will get the permits for you. Also, contact your insurance agent to be sure your proposed renewable energy system is covered by your homeowners or liability insurance policy. Other legalities might include homeowners’ association or neighborhood covenants.
4. Secure financing.
Many people don’t realize that funding for this sort of home project might come from a home equity loan. For a commercial project, a capital improvement loan might be one way to go. Another option is for your business to contract for hot water that will be provided by a solar energy company that will install and maintain the system at its expense. You can also contact Focus on Energy to see whether your project might qualify for a cash-back reward, implementation grant or low-interest rate loan to help offset the project cost. Apply for the Focus on Energy incentives before purchasing any equipment or signing a contract with an installer. In Wisconsin, renewable energy equipment is exempt from property taxes, so your renewable energy system will not affect your property tax bill.
5. Call an installer to get estimates. You can look for an installer in the Wisconsin Renewable Energy Yellow Pages online at the Focus on Energy Web site. It is always a good idea to get more than one estimate.
6. Learn how to maintain your installation safely.
Ask your installer for instructions on how to maintain your system properly and safely. Be sure to learn basic safety requirements and procedures.
Ed Blume is director of outreach and communications for RENEW Wisconsin.
Focus on Energy is a public-private partnership offering energy information and services to energy utility customers throughout Wisconsin.
July 23, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI