Neighbors came together at a Spooner residence to discuss a solar ground mount.

SHELL LAKE — RENEW Wisconsin estimates that Wisconsin ended 2018 with 103 megawatts of solar power, with about 80 percent of that residing in panels on homes and other buildings.

A large portion of those solar installations were made possible by collaborations between solar installers, non-profits, and communities of all sizes coming together to purchase solar in bulk. Solar energy installs are up, and many in Wisconsin’s rural areas are not aware that group-buying is an option.

“Group buying of solar is usually more widely known in larger, more populated urban areas,” said Foley Quinn, CEO and founder of Next Energy Solution in Shell Lake, “but our more rural areas have found out that buying in bulk creates a unique tiered pricing structure, so the group purchase provides an opportunity to lower the price to half the market rate — and it’s not a secret kept in Milwaukee or Madison any longer.”

Group buys are developed in designated geographical communities, making installations efficient for the solar installer and driving prices down even further for local municipal, residential, agricultural and business customers.

The current NES ”Heart of the North Group Buy” applies to select communities from the south side of Hayward at Highway 70, east to Highway 51, south to Interstate 90, and west to the Minnesota border, ideal for residents of Spooner, Rice Lake, Eau Claire, Wausau, La Crosse, Hudson and areas in between.

The group buy participants in each of those communities have scheduled a solar site assessment. They have reviewed their energy consumption with NES as well as the state and federal rebate programs that apply to them.

But they have one other, perhaps even more important item in common: They are committed to growing solar energy in their communities.

“Our projects last year proved that there is an appetite for local solar installations when the price is right,” Quinn said. Consumers have the option to use a Ready-to-Install system in addition to a professionally installed or off-grid option. The RTI systems have helped many who want a “do-it-yourself” installation to save themselves the cost of install. All the available systems mentioned qualify for the last year of the 30 percent federal tax credit (2019).

Group buy projects in northern, rural Wisconsin have already proven successful.

The NES partnership with the acclaimed nonprofit Cheq Bay Renewables offered group purchase opportunities for solar in 2018, which led to a Wisconsin record-setting 85 new solar installations totaling more than 550 kilowatts. A group buy in Sauk County organized by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association was the second largest in the state in 2018, totaling 448 kW, according to a tally by RENEW Wisconsin policy director Michael Vickerman. In 2017, the largest group buy was a 335 kW one in central Wisconsin.

For more information on local solar group buys, email or call 715-416-3022.