Shared solar

H&H Electric crews begin installing solar panels on top of the Middleton Municipal Operations Center on Parmenter Street for Madison Gas & Electric's Shared Solar project. When complete, the project will encompass about 1,700 panels capable of delivering up to 500 kilowatts of power.

MADISON GAS & ELECTRIC

Solar panels are starting to sprout on the roof of Middleton’s Municipal Operations Center now that all of the potential power they will produce has been purchased by area residents.

Madison Gas & Electric’s Shared Solar community project has drawn 282 customers volunteering to pay extra to support the project, even though the sun-generated electricity cannot be wired directly to their homes.

“That energy will go out onto the grid, offsetting fossil fuel,” MGE spokesman Steve Schultz said.

About 1,700 solar panels will be mounted on the roof of the Middleton operations center, 4330 Parmenter St. At peak sunshine, they’ll be able to produce 500 kilowatts of power, enough to light about 100 homes, MGE estimates.

“We’re expecting that it would begin generating electricity by the end of the year,” Schultz said.

To participate, subscribers pay an up-front fee of $47.25 per quarter-kilowatt. With the average subscriber signed up to cover 1.8 kilowatts of power, that would be a one-time payment of about $340.

They also will pay 12 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity they use, adding about $8.50 a month to the average participant’s electric bill. That’s about 3 cents per kilowatt-hour more than regular residential electric rates, but the rate is locked in for 25 years and “the thought is that 12 cents (per kilowatt-hour) would actually end up being lower, somewhere along the line,” Schultz said.

The Shared Solar project is believed to be the first of its kind in the Madison area, but others may be in the works.

The city of Fitchburg is conducting an online survey through mid-December to see if there’s any interest in a community solar project in that suburb as well.

“We want to find out what people want ... what it would take for them to participate in terms of cost, and how long it would take to recoup their investment,” said Erika Kluetmeier, the city of Fitchburg’s sustainability specialist.

Fitchburg has received a $2,500 grant from the Wisconsin Distributed Resources Collaborative to pay for the survey as well as a feasibility study to see where a community solar installation would be most efficient, Kluetmeier said.

For now, at least, the city is focusing on municipal buildings as potential locations, but she said a partnership with a local school could be an option as well.

Kluetmeier said a community forum on solar power in October drew 65 people, a turnout she called “phenomenal ... It tells us people are ready to make the move and are really interested in all the options.”

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