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Friday, October 10, 2008

Milwaukee searches for solar contractors

From a story by Sean Ryan in The Daily Reporter:

Milwaukee wants its hometown builders to reap the benefits of a surge in solar energy, but the contractors that do that work are from Madison.

Hiring Madison talent both increases project costs and sends cash to out-of-town businesses, said Ann Beier, director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability.

“We want the jobs here,” she said. “It’s pure and simple. We want Milwaukee residents to do the work.”

But Milwaukee doesn’t have contractors with the necessary certifications to draw public money for solar energy projects. Focus on Energy, the Madison-based group that offers grants for solar projects, requires contractors have experience and education before installing photovoltaic panels.

Most Focus on Energy-sponsored projects use Madison contractors, said Niels Wolter, solar electric program manager for the organization.

“Of course, that adds to the cost (in Milwaukee),” he said, “and of course Milwaukee wants to keep its money in the city.”

Focus on Energy requires contractors to take weeklong solar-installation courses before working on a project, Wolter said. Then, by the time contractors have worked on a maximum of nine projects, they must get certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Inc.

Banks, like Focus on Energy, don’t like financing projects if the contractor installing the panels is not certified, said Don Albinger, vice president of renewable energy solutions for Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee. But he said there are not many classes to prepare contractors to take the exams.
The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) offers the necessary classes.

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