Example of solar panels

This image shows an example of what panels in a solar garden may look like. River Falls Municipal Utility has solar panels that provide clean energy to all the City of River Falls' buildings and many community members', as well. (Submitted Photos)

The numbers are in. River Falls ranked second in the nation, as of December 2019, in green power participation rates, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "That means that per capita, River Falls is second most active in purchasing renewable energy,” said Mike Noreen, River Falls conservation and efficiency coordinator. “So we don't have the most solar panels on our roof. But when it just looks at per capita, River Falls is the second most engaged. People want this.” 

“Using renewable energy reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution associated with energy production and helps diversify the nation’s energy supply,” states the Environmental Protection Agency website. River Falls has been promoting a conservation ethic for around 10 years, said Noreen, to do its part in reducing GHG emissions and protecting our environment. A critical aspect of that ethic is working towards 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Here is how Noreen recommends you make the transition to solar energy, lowering your utility bills and protecting the planet: 

Reduce Usage

The first thing Noreen suggests doing before making the transition to renewable energy, is reducing what energy you already use. This can be as simple as shutting off lights when you exit a room or unplugging your computer when it is done charging. 

Increase Efficiency 

The next step is to use energy more efficiently. This includes small steps like replacing light bulbs with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, or larger projects, such as sealing any cracks that may be letting heated or cooled air out of your home. LED bulbs “use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer, than incandescent lighting,” according to the United States Department of Energy website. 

Switch to Solar 

Once you have accomplished the first two steps, you have a few options to begin the switch to renewable energy in River Falls. 

Renewable Energy Block Program

For a few dollars a month, through River Falls Municipal Utilities, you can receive renewable energy in your home, business and other buildings, through the Renewable Energy Block Program. Each block adds $3 to your monthly utilities bill and you’re welcome to use as many blocks of green power as needed to offset your carbon footprint. On average, it takes between two and three energy blocks to completely power a home with solar energy. However, as the number of active participants increases, the cost of this sustainable energy source will decrease. Noreen anticipates that this summer, the price of one renewable energy block will drop to $2 in the city.

Opting into this program does not require any maintenance on the part of the consumer. Municipal Utilities manage the solar site, making this one of the easiest and most efficient ways to reduce your fossil fuel consumption. 

Community Solar

If you’d like a more hands on approach to using green energy, the Community Solar program may be a good option for you. In this case, you are able to see and choose which panels you’d like to buy a share of from River Falls Municipal Utilities. Each share is $567, but monthly, you will receive a credit applied to your utility bill, depending on how much energy is generated by your selected panels.

There is a loan program available for Community Solar to provide wider access and assistance.

Buy Solar Panels

Currently, there are also a few incentives in place to promote the installation of renewable energy systems in Wisconsin and River Falls. “Solar can have a steep upfront cost but with help from River Falls Municipal Utilities and Focus on Energy and a 30 percent Federal tax credit, the payback can be between 7 to 12 years,” states the River Falls Municipal Utilities website. Between the Wisconsin Focus Energy and River Falls Municipal Utilities, you can receive cash-back rewards, grants and cash incentives to assist in purchasing and installing your own solar panels. 

In the long run, this option would drastically reduce monthly utility bills, however it’s unlikely there would be no bill, said Noreen. “There's always some charge on there, just to be redundant or to have a backup,” he said. 

Go Renewable

All city owned and operated buildings, since the beginning of 2020, have run on 100 percent renewable energy. By the end of 2021, Noreen has a goal to reach 21 percent renewable energy citywide. “This is something that we all care about,” said Noreen. “And we can do. We're going to take action. And through that ethic as it grows, it just kind of continues to build, and then more people learn about it, and more people participate and talk about it… And it just keeps growing.” 

If you’re ready to make the switch to cleaner living, call Mike Noreen at 715-426-3467 or visit https://www.rfmu.org/921/Renewable-Energy-Options to read more about the best options for you. 

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