Last updated on May 15th, 2022 at 09:15 am
By this summer, families will be moving in to a New Berlin subdivision where solar panels are not only allowed, but mandatory.
Pewaukee-based Neumann Cos. has spent the past year creating the “net zero” energy project called Red Fox Crossing, a 34-home development located at South Sunnyslope Road and West Grange Avenue.
The project will be the first of its kind in the state and has been a dream for Matt Neumann, chief executive officer of Neumann Cos., since he founded SunVest Solar Inc. in 2009 and began experimenting with the idea of a net zero home.
The hesitation was affordability, Neumann said. But what used to cost upward of $75,000 per house to add solar panels can now be done for about $12,000 to $15,000 per house.
That added cost can result in a higher mortgage payment of about $50 per month, but the savings in energy costs for the homeowners are expected to be about $100 per month, Neumann said.
“People remember the cost of solar panels from years ago when they first looked into it and it was just too expensive,” Neumann said. “Now, when they look into it and check out the economics, a lot of times it makes sense.” To get an idea of how much a solar panel costs, visit a place like energyrenovationcenter.com/buying-solar-panels/to get full details.
Over the past year, solar has expanded across the state as homeowners and business executives have begun to calculate the long-term cost savings.
When factoring in the state and federal incentives available, adding solar to the roof last fall made sense for the partners at Ryan Kromholz & Manion SC, an intellectual property law firm in Brookfield. In September, the firm completed an installation of 188 solar panels at 3360 Gateway Road in the Gateway West Commerce Center business park.
Appleton-based Werner Electric Supply Co. and Kettle View Renewable Energy LLC of Random Lake were the contractors on the RKM project.
The firm did not want to say how much money it spent on the panels, but so far it has realized an average savings of 40 percent on its monthly energy bill, said Ron Zdroik, illustrator and facility manager at RKM.
“We estimate that we will pay (the cost to install the panels) back in less than four years,” Zdroik said.
RKM is the third building in the Brookfield business park to add solar panels. CBRE|ESI, a building system technology company at 3410 Gateway Road and Components Co. Inc., a manufacturer located at 3320 Intertech Drive, also have solar panels on their roofs.
Zdroik said two other companies in the park are also considering solar panels.
“The solar power industry is growing like gangbusters,” Zdroik said. “Our partners like the environmental benefits, but really, we did this for financial reasons. When you look at what you spend on electricity and the rate of return, it makes financial sense, above and beyond the social responsibility.”
In Wisconsin, the Focus on Energy program makes grants available to home and business owners for solar installations. Homeowners can receive up to $2,000. Business owners can be awarded up to $4,000.
There is also a federal solar tax credit, also known as the investment tax credit, which allows solar users to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from their federal taxes.
RKM and homebuyers in Neumann’s Red Fox Crossing subdivision are able to utilize both.
The Red Fox homes are being built by Tim O’Brien Homes Inc. and the solar is being installed by SunVest Solar, both affiliates of Neumann Cos.
So far, about a dozen homes have been sold in the Red Fox Crossing subdivision. The 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot homes are expected to sell for $500,000 to $650,000, Neumann said.
“What we have been getting is a ton of questions about the aesthetics, more than the economics,” Neumann said. “People are worried the panels will be an eyesore. But I think when the homes are built, they will see it is not a big deal.”
The panels will be on the sides and backs of the homes.
Neumann, whose father Mark Neumann started the family business in 1979 and served as a Republican congressman, realizes being an advocate for solar energy is not the most likely position for him to be in.
However, he said the industry has evolved since the Obama administration first began discussion of spending millions of dollars on solar energy projects in 2009.
Obama’s 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act included more than $467 million to expand and accelerate the development, deployment and use of geothermal and solar energy throughout the United States.
“Today there are still tax credits, but they are used to help scale the projects to the point to make them more competitive,” Neumann said. “Republicans have always been in favor of using tax credits to incentivize investments we believe are good for economic development. Foxconn is a classic example.”
Becoming less dependent on fossil fuels is not an Obama idea, Neumann said.
“Environmental conservation should be a Republican idea,” Neumann said. “Not the least of which, millennials care about the environment and they are the largest voting bloc. Like it or not, embracing solar is not only more cost competitive, but it is also a way to engage millennials.”
Neumann said he would consider other solar subdivisions, but he wants to see how the market responds to the Red Fox Crossing project.
“We took a really big leap of faith with this,” Neumann said. “We want to learn from the customer questions and objections. Other builders are interested in solar, but no one else has made a commitment like this.”