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Solar Energy Actually Comes at an Affordable Rate

Even though the sun's energy can be easily converted into power for homes and businesses, most power comes from the burning of fossil fuels instead, made from the decomposing remains of plants and animals. When burned for energy use, they also release atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and warm the Earth, causing damaging changes to our natural greenhouse.

Global climate change has already impacted the environment. According to NASA, ice sheets are decreasing 427 billion metric tons per year, sea levels increase 3.4 millimeters per year, and there are 418 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our air, which is steadily increasing.

Plant and animal ranges are also shifting, as a result of profound changes to ecosystems, such as forest fires. More droughts and hurricanes are predicted by Third and Fourth National Climate Assessment Reports.

Renewable Energy

An alternative option for Milwaukee residents is solar paneling, which can be mounted on rooftops or the ground to convert energy from the sun into electricity for homes and businesses.

“Climate change is sparking people’s interest in solar. I suggest that we advocate for renewable energy since it’s so clean,” said Elizabeth Hittman, sustainability coordinator at Milwaukee Shines, a solar program that works with community partners to create clean energy.

Milwaukee Shines streamlines the permitting process, reducing permit fees, and providing financing resources for consumers.

One of Hittman's roles is to guide home and business owners through the process of installing solar paneling. "Most people have never done it, and they are probably only going to do it once,” Hittman said.“It can be confusing, so we want people to have a positive experience."


Hittman explains that rates for non-solar powered electricity are relatively expensive in Southeastern Wisconsin, and it can be challenging to plan a budget around increasing prices.

Solar paneling is the best option for those conscientious about their budget, such as retirees looking to be smart with their money and have control over their own energy production.

Upfront costs have even decreased over the years, and continue to do so.

“People are unaware of how much the cost of the hardware has dropped,” Hittman said. “Twenty years ago, a system for a home would have been $40,000, and now people can install solar for less than $10,000.”

Some of the many advantages are the low costs and quick return on investment.

“It’s really the only appliance you’ll buy that will end up paying for itself since you are basically making your own electricity,” Hittman said.

“People think solar will cost them a fortune. There are minimal upfront costs,” adds Charlie Ortiz, business development manager at More Solar. “Homeowners can lower their bills, have more control over their costs, create a fixed billing system for the term of the loan, versus different amounts each month. Also, you can contribute to the environmental shift happening in the world.”

Ultimately, power from the sun is free, so aside from occasional thunderstorms, or night skies, consumers will inevitably see lower costs when taking advantage of the sunshine.

Ortiz said that in the short term, 20 to 40 percent of homeowners will see a reduced rate in their bills.

“Long term it depends on the incentives and the state,” Ortiz said. “I've seen the investment rate of return range anywhere from 7-14%. Pretty darn good return if you ask me.”

Hittman adds that for homeowners, the typical return on investment is around eight years, though every house is different.

There are even tax rebates and incentives for consumers who install solar.

“Right now, there is a 26% federal tax incentive for renewable energy, and there is a state Focus on Energy Program, which is a cash-back incentive program for people that are doing energy efficiency,” Hittman said.

Terry Wiggins, 350 Milwaukee environmentalist and former solar homeowner, can attest to the cost-effectiveness of alternative energy.

“Solar paneling is not considered desirable by electric utility companies because it involves free resources,” Wiggins said.“Back when we were first considering, it was expensive, the second time, the price went down, and it has continued to go down.”

Limitations of Solar Energy

There is, however, an inevitable challenge for Milwaukee residents who live in apartment complexes or rented homes who want to reduce electricity costs and help to decrease climate change.

"We are renters, so we don't have power over alternative energy options,” Wiggins said. “However, in our previous two homes, we had moved in that direction.”

For those who do own their own homes and have the option to switch, it is important to note the limitations that may disqualify owners from moving to alternative energy, though there are few.

"Certain roofs don't work for solar, like wood and slate," said Ortiz.

A limitation for Milwaukee is that the sun doesn’t shine all 365 days of the year, so a frequently asked question that Sun Badger Solar gets is if their solar panels will produce power when the sun isn’t shining.

According to their website, “Solar panels produce electricity whenever the sun is shining on them. That means that even on cloudy days, your solar panels will produce electricity. The only time that electricity won’t be produced by solar is at night. But, solar panels are still a great option for cloudy or less sunny cities because of the cost of electricity.”

Time Investment

For those who do not wish to go through a time-consuming solar installation for their home or business, know that the process is pretty quick.

According to DASolar, a typical solar panel installation can take as few as one or two days after the solar equipment arrives. The installation process will usually involve two or three Milwaukee installers working to complete the job.

"It can be around a month-long. For businesses, it may be different depending on financing," Hittman said.

COVID-19 Impact

Since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Solar Energy Industries Association ensures that installations can still be done safely and efficiently, as long as federal and state guidance provisions are followed.

"It has slowed us down a little bit, but we are new and small, so it was easy to pivot," Ortiz said. 'It actually birthed a secret project we're working on and got us to be more creative. We had a door-to-door team and converted that team into cold call ninjas that do the same thing they were doing on the doors on the phone."

As of January 2021, Milwaukee Shines reported there are more than 8.27 Megawatts (MW) of solar energy installed in Milwaukee, compared to 4.5 MW the year prior. Residents are creating cleaner air for our community and helping to reduce energy costs for themselves and the community at large.

“Cities should be working to encourage this as much as they can,” Hittman said. “If you work to get renewable energy, there aren’t negative impacts on the air like you see from coal power plants.”

If you’d like to look into the process of having solar installed in your home or business, email for more information.


About the Author

Jeana Prudhomme

Jeana Prudhomme is a Communications professional, as well as the Founder and Editor of Respect Your Mother Magazine. She received B.A in Communications from Alverno College in 2017, and an M.A in New Media and Professional Writing in the Spring of 2022. After years of focusing on solutions journalism and non-fiction writing related to feminism and sustainability, she has created art from her passions in the form of this ecofeminist magazine.

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