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In an effort to save money and become less reliant on coal, a number of Racine-area residents are having solar panels installed through a co-operative group called SolaRacine. Racine County supervisor Melissa Becker said she’s always wanted to put solar panels on her house. She’s the first residential home SolaRacine has done and over the next few days she’ll see that become a reality.

Solar Power Savings

The 100 year-old house uses 200 to 1,150 watts a month. Once the solar panels start producing electricity, Becker expects to see her electric $200/ average monthly bill drop 64 percent. “Being an elected official I thought this was something that I could put the spotlight on because we can be among the most influential voices in our community,” she said. Tom Rutkowski, one of the organizers of SolaRacine, will also serve as the contact person for the contractors. The project includes informing the public on why solar is a practical and cost-effective way to generate energy for homes and businesses. They will also help spearhead area solar power projects in the greater Racine area. “This is really affordable and people just don’t know it yet because there are some forces working against it,” Rutkowski said when the project kicked off earlier this year.

Installation Takes Days

The installation work on Becker’s home started Friday. Donny Scott, a journeyman electrician with Brookfield-based Current Electric, said the company has 15 more solar panel installations to do in the Racine area over the next month and a half. All of the homes are more than 1,500 square feet. The work takes about two days to complete. Becker’s project includes installing a double meter system, putting in the bracket system and attaching the solar panel. “Once the double meter is installed, the power will actually go to the power grid and not directly to the house,” Scott said. Homeowners that installed solar panels used to feed the house directly. But We Energies now require that a double meter be installed. So the generated power actually shows up as a credit on your bill and you pay less based on the amount of power generated. “You still pay less than you would have… But now they are tracking what is produced,” he said. “You also have to pay a fee for the second meter… It’s still better than coal.” A number of businesses, schools, municipalities, and residents have already installed solar panels, including O&H BakeryWingspread, the Wind Point Village Office, Harbor House, Racine Montessori, and Walden III High School.

The Win-win-win

The SolaRacine project includes another element: Jobs. Racine youth enrolled in the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps are working with Current Electric to install the solar panels The students would have helped install Becker’s solar panels, but the pitch on the roof was too steep. They have been helping with other projects, though in other communities, Scott said. “I think they are having a lot of fun working on those projects and learning a lot,” he said. The cost for Becker to have solar panels installed was about $11,500, which included several credits. Within 10 years, the project will have paid for itself. She hopes more people in the community are inspired to do the same. “I want this to be the norm and I love that it’s a visual thing you can see happening,” she said. “If others are inspired to do it, that’s what I want.” .        

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.