Solar panels on house

The sun helps power the South Side home of Steve and Sarah Elmore, via 12 panels installed through a city of Madison program in 2012. The city is trying to encourage more homeowners to follow suit, with a new version of the program designed to lower the cost.

DAVID ELMORE

The city of Madison is offering a pair of solar energy programs designed to make it easier for residents to tap into the power of the sun to light their homes.

One program, the MadiSUN Group Buy for Rooftop Solar, will let homeowners negotiate with solar companies as a group, holding down the cost to buy and install solar panels.

The other is an arrangement among the city, the state Focus on Energy program, and Summit Credit Union to offer low-cost loans to pay for the solar units.

Under the plan, residents can finance 100 percent of the cost with no collateral or fees required. Summit will provide loans of up to $20,000 at interest rates up to 4.99 percent.

Summit is willing to lend up to $1.6 million in all, with the help of two allocations from the city: $80,000 as a loan loss reserve, in case the homeowner cannot pay back the full amount, and a contract with RENEW Wisconsin, a Madison nonprofit advocating for renewable energy, for $44,000.

RENEW will administer the group purchase and will conduct education sessions with prospective participants.

“Conducting this pre-evaluation ... will mean that contractors will receive contacts who are very likely to go ahead and install solar,” RENEW executive director Tyler Huebner said.

Focus on Energy offers up to $2,400 in rebates for installing solar, and federal tax credits can cover 30 percent of the system cost.

Madison residents Steve and Sarah Elmore took part in a city-run group-buy program in 2012. They said their 12 solar panels would have cost $15,000 but dropped to about $9,000 after the state and federal incentives. Steve Elmore estimates the family’s investment will pay for itself in around 10 years.

More information on the city group purchase program is available at madisunsolar.com.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.