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Friday, July 23, 2010

River Falls sees green in new solar power program

From an article by Ricardo Lopez in the Pionerr Press, St. Paul, MN:

River Falls has launched a program to encourage homeowners and businesses to install solar energy systems.

While a few months into the project and only one resident — who owns a solar installation company — has signed up, the western Wisconsin city is confident more residents will take part.

Known as the Renewable Energy Finance Program, city and community leaders say the program shows River Falls' commitment to the environment and renewable energy.

With an $18,000 loan, Mike Harvey is installing solar panels and an electrical system to the home he shares with his fiancee. The money will be paid back through an assessment added to his property taxes.

"I went the day they had the paperwork available to fill it out," Harvey said of his eagerness to sign up.

The lone resident to take out a loan through the program, Harvey owns River Falls-based Synergized Solar, a solar panel distribution company.

He estimates the panels, which are wind and weather rated, should pay for themselves in about 11 to 12 years with saving on electrical costs.

River Falls has been recognized as a regional leader in pushing "green" energy. This new initiative has been in the works for two years, said Mike Noreen, conservation and efficiency coordinator for River Falls Municipal Utilities, which administers the program. Residents can qualify for a loan of up to $50,000, and Noreen said the agency set aside $500,000 for the loans.

It is designed to help homeowners who previously thought renewable energy systems were out of their financial reach, said Kelly Cain, sustainability director at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
"From a social justice equity perspective, it helps to level the playing field for everyone," said Cain, adding the River Falls program is the most significant step any city has taken. Cain is also a member of the Powerful Choices committee, a River Falls group heavily involved in renewable energy planning, including the new solar program.

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