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It’s easy to understand why states like California and Texas might opt for clean, renewable solar energy to replace fossil-fuel electricity generation. Each has large areas of solar insolation whose values approach 5.5 (on a scale of 2.0 to 9.0 in the continental United States).

Wisconsin, at 2.5 – with a peak of 3.5 – is harder to imagine. Yet Wisconsin is the only state in the union other than California and Texas to have two major cities included in the Solar America Cities program; Milwaukee and Madison.

The Solar America Cities program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy, which aims to see accelerated adoption of solar energy technologies to create a cleaner, more secure energy future. Comprised of 25 major American cities, the program operates through 180 municipal, county and state agencies, as well as solar companies, universities, regional utilities and various non-profit policy organizations, all of whom are committed to seeing solar energy take a front seat at the energy table.

The fact can’t be accounted for merely by Wisconsin’s renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, since the goal is 10 percent of energy from renewables by 2105.

The law, SB 459, enacted in March 2006, allows utilities to fulfill their requirements by buying renewable resource credits (RRCs) from one another, and also allows a carry-forward method of accounting.

In spite of that, Wisconsin really is leading in renewable energy, notably solar, with a proposed $19.6 million project for Roundy’s Corp. supermarket distribution center in Oconomowoc.

Initiated by the state’s Office of Energy Independence (OEI), and funded through an $8.822-million grant that the OEI applied for in 2009 (via the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Community Renewable Energy Stimulus program), the 12,000-panel, 3.177-megawatt installation will, when completed, become the largest solar project in the Midwest.

The project will also create 190 jobs, double the state’s solar portfolio, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4,237 tonnes per year, and provide for almost 20 percent of distribution center’s electricity needs.

Add to that the new factory in Mazomanie, to be built by Menomonie-based Cardinal Glass, which makes low-e glass for energy-efficient windows and will now being making solar panel glass, adding about 60 jobs and competing with Corning, an industry leader in glassware production who is also thinking of expanding into solar panel glass manufacture.

Wisconsin is a leader in solar panel installation training, with more certified solar installers per capita than nearly every state in the nation, according to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s executive director Terri Parker, whose agency plans to train 200 instructors across six states over the next five years, thanks to a $3.3-million grant. And this isn’t even counting the cooperative, internally financed solar education “farm” being developed by the Milwaukee Area Technical College and Johnson Controls, which will consist of about 2,500 panels.

Some information in the story was provided by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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