Oct. 6 was a big day in the Wilkinson household.
That’s the day Dave and Colleen Wilkinson had their home commissioned as a production station for electrical power in the state.
It came as a result of the Wilkinsons installing 16 solar panels on the south-facing portion of their home’s roof at 9304 60th Place.
They were able to be part of a group buy-in with SOLARacine earlier this year.
The Wilkinsons had been talking about going solar for years and made the leap this summer.
“I was worried that the technology hadn’t come far enough to make this financially viable,” Colleen said. “But I also realized it was a good deal to take advantage of, and we probably wouldn’t see another one come along like this. We thought about it quite a bit, and in the end decided it was the right thing to do.”
The Wilkinsons are cutting-edge green when it comes to their lifestyle. They use rain barrel water storage to water their vegetable garden and drive a gasoline/electric hybrid Toyota Prius. They installed a geothermal system to heat and cool their 1,700-square-foot home in 2011.
They use no natural gas or propane. They cook, heat water, run the clothes dryer, power a fan to push air through the heating and cooling vents all with electricity.
The solar power installation was just the next step in making the Wilkinson home more energy cost efficient.
Project gets the green light
They hired Sunvest Solar Inc. of Pewaukee as their contractor for the project.
At the end of June, the company assessed the structure, roof pitch, lack of trees and south-facing roof for suitability. The weight of the solar system wasn’t an issue on their standard roof.
No other rewiring or electrical panel upgrades were needed.
The panels, which face the street side of the home, will increase the value and ease of sale of the property in the future, the Wilkinsons said.
Seeing the savings
The savings are already reflected in their utility bill.
In October 2015, they paid a $103 We Energies bill for 18.3 kilowatt hours on an average day. This October — or the last three weeks of it — the electric bill was a mere $35 for 7.3 kilowatt hours on an average day.
And in the future, they will be producing more electricity than they can use, so they’ll get credits on the their electric bills in the early summer months, when there are longer hours of sunlight.
Although they’ll never get a check from We Energies for their home power production, credits will roll over into the fall and winter to offset their electric bill, Colleen said.
“More or less, we are a production station. There’s no battery in our house. We’re not storing electricity. We’re a remote location that’s producing energy for the state of Wisconsin,” she said.
The full impact of the dwindling light will come on the winter solstice, Dec. 21.
“This is a hard time of the year to assess this because the daylight is continuing to wane. I think it’s fascinating that we are making as much electricity as we are,” Colleen said. “It will be very interesting to compare October to May of next year.”
Installation costs an investment
There was a hefty initial investment of about $13,000 before rebates and tax credits. The final first year investment after the incentives roll in will be $7,577.
Depending on the electricity costs in the future, the Wilkinsons believe payback on the system will come in seven to 10 years. If the rates go up, the payback will be quicker.
“It’s an investment, but I think (other people should do this). Each and every time more people do this, it’s not just an environmental saver, it’s a money saver,” Dave said. “You have an initial payback period, but after that you’re creating energy at no cost.”
Will the Wilkinsons worry if hail pelts their solar panels?
“Only if the hail is grapefruit-sized, but that would do roof damage, not just solar panel damage,” Dave said, adding that such an event would be covered by insurance.
He noted that his insurance rates hadn’t risen with the installation of the panels.
In another improvement, the couple installed two Solatubes to light the home’s kitchen and laundry room.
“It’s more of a new kind of skylight,” Colleen said. “It’s magnified and doesn’t go to the ceilings, so we don’t lose heat energy or cooling energy.”