Update from Nick

Going Beyond Rooftop Solar – Making the Decision 

By Nick Hein, 2/26/20

A year after Ken and Barb installed their solar array with the help of Legacy Solar Co-op, it’s been performing even better than expected -producing more than 100% of their electric needs. That’s gotten them thinking, since their utility doesn’t pay them as much for the excess, they’d like to use it to offset (or eliminate) their natural gas usage. They wonder if replacing their current furnace, water heater and appliances with the most efficient models available, their rooftop array could produce all the energy they need to use in a year. Then they could completely disconnect the natural gas service.* So it looks like they could become 100% net-zero, and now the question is whether they should. Let’s join Ken and Barb one evening as they discuss it.

“Barb, I’ve been reading about something called ‘Deep Energy Retrofits’ where homeowners upgrade their insulation and mechanical systems so their solar array can provide all the power they need. It looks like something we could do.” “OK, I can see how that would be a good idea for the planet since we’d be completely free of fossil fuels, but does it make sense for us financially?” asks Barb. Ken replies: “I’m not sure yet, and it probably depends on how much we spend on the upgrade, but I read an article from one person who did it and found that it paid a better return than his 401k. He also liked the fact that the return was more predictable and the investment was going into his home.” (1) Read more

Update from Nick

If I’m Getting Free Electricity from the Sun, Why isn’t my bill lower? It may be your demand peaks.

Nick Hein, 12/20/19

If you’re a commercial electric customer and you’ve just installed solar PV on your roof, you’re probably expecting to see a lower monthly electric bill.  If you don’t, it’s probably due to peak demand charges and there’s something you can do about it.  Electricity doesn’t always cost the same.  Depending what tariff schedule (rate plan) you’re on, the electric bill may have any or all of these components: 

When you install solar, you’re saving yourself money in the usage charge.  That means the utility is making less money, so they try to make up for it by increasing the connection charge and the demand charges.  Before solar, these charges didn’t even exist.  To some extent they are justified.   Connection charges cover the cost  to maintain wires and transformers that carry the electricity, and this rate is negotiated with the state Public Service Commission and can’t be changed.  Peak demand rates are also fixed, but you can reduce your peak usage.  When there are peaks the provider has to pay more for electricity on short notice.  It makes good sense to level out your usage so you don’t get peaks because it reduces the wear on your electrical equipment.  It can also save you money on your monthly bill.  Here’s how. Read more

New York Roadtrip 2019

Road Tripping in a Rented EV: How we spent our Summer vacation while taking climate action.

Nick Hein, 10/6/19

1. The Call to Action

A good friend of ours spends her summers in the Adirondacks at a family-owned wilderness camp north of Utica, NY and invited us to come and visit. As the summer was nearing an end, my fiance’ and I realized that we hadn’t taken a vacation and decided to go a few weeks after Labor Day when most of the vacation travel had settled down. However, this was also the week of the climate strike Day of Action and we wanted our travel to align with it even if we would be far away. We began considering our options for low-impact travel. Read more

Turn Sunshine into Money with Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)

Jackie Harrison-Jewell, 8/1/19

Solar electricity is worth more than just clean power.  It has externalized benefits that are worth money, so the concept of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) was created to credit producers for those benefits.  Every time 1,000 kWh of electricity is generated, it is recorded as an (SREC)The SREC is sold separately from the electricity and represents the “solar” aspect of the electricity that was produced. Why bother doing this?  Several states have a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for solar – a mandated percentage of total energy that must be generated by solar energy.  In states that have this mandate, the value of an SREC is determined by the market subject to supply and demand constraints. SRECs can be sold to electricity suppliers needing to meet their solar RPS requirement.  Read more

Man climbing stairs with sunrise background

The Sustainability StairClimb: Strategy

Nick Hein, 4/25/19

1. Introduction:  Why have a strategy?

Earlier articles in this series have discussed sustainability in terms of the simple, low-risk, short-payback tactics with obvious benefits.  However, when it comes to the bigger and more expensive opportunities you need a strategy that will guide you to the most effective ones first and help you plan how to pay for them.  Currently the most common strategy is the payback calculation. This is a strictly monetary metric that says if you get your money back in a reasonable amount of time, and continue to save after that, then the project is worth it.  The problem with this approach is that it may miss synergies that can come about by combining projects, and can’t adapt to changing conditions.  In this article we’ll also talk about Fossil Energy (FE) reduction, and a 100% Renewable Energy (RE%) target strategy.  The new metrics have the benefit that they are absolute, meaning that they don’t depend on a baseline that might change over time.  As such they mark progress toward an absolute goal instead of a relative one. Here we’ll also track the traditional metrics like energy cost and payback time.

Read more

Net metering screenshot

Net Metering in Wisconsin

Nick Hein, 2/25/19

If you’re putting solar PV on your home you may have heard the term “net metering” and wondered what it means. Even if you think you know what it means, there are some details about it that vary greatly depending on your utility. These may affect the size of the array you decide to install, and how you operate it. In this article I’ll explain what net metering is, why we have it and what you should know to make the best decision about your installation and how you use it.

Read more

The Stairclimb Strategy

Nick Hein, 1/28/19

Previous articles discussed the sustainability stair climb in general terms.  In this article we’ll outline a specific strategy to make real progress toward long-term sustainability goals.  Here’s why it’s important.  Your financial investments right now may be making 2-8% in conventional places like banks and money markets.  Alternatively, sustainability can give you a return from 10-80%, and your investment stays in your home where you can see and feel it.  In this article you’ll learn how to calculate that return and how to make it snowball so you can re-invest it. 

Rebates or other programs give you short-term rewards for changing behavior, but if you’re going to climb the whole stairway you need a way to see longer-term progress and set bigger goals.  A $100 rebate doesn’t help you as much as saving $100 every year, and using fewer fossil fuels this month doesn’t motivate you as much as eliminating them completely.  

In this article we describe how to track money saved during your sustainability efforts, in addition to the intangible benefits such as time-savings, convenience, comfort, safety, and quality of life. This will involve using spreadsheets, which we’ll show in sections.  There will be a link to the complete file, which should work with most spreadsheet programs.  Read more

How Do We Know that Sustainability is better?

Nick Hein, 10/29/18

Do you have questions about solar? Know someone who does? Things are changing quickly for solar and some of the answers out there don’t apply anymore. Here’s what’s really up with solar right now. In last month’s article we introduced the “Sustainability Stairclimb” to get us thinking about how we “do” sustainability. This month we’ll start the climb with the simple question “Why?” Why can’t we just keep doing things the way we have been, and how do we know that sustainability is better?

Chances are that if you’re a regular reader of this newsletter or Legacy customer, you already have your own answers. But along your climb people may ask you why you’re doing it. Many of these questions were actually asked recently, and they show that not everybody knows about the latest developments in sustainable technologies or the changing climate. In addition, out of date information lingers and some of the changes threaten fossil fuel industries, so there’s sometimes an incentive to spread inaccuracies and distortions. Read more

The Sustainability Stair Climb

By Nick Hein, 8/23/18

What is sustainability and how do you DO it? The answer depends partly on what you WANT it to be and what you CAN do. In this article we’ll describe the Sustainability Stair Climb basics. In future articles we’ll give some specifics, including the big step that solar PV from Legacy Solar Co-op can help you climb.


First of all, what is sustainability and how do you DO it? There are the things in our daily lives that we need – like heat, light and food. Sustainability is just managing those resources so we’ll continue to have them as long as we need them. For our larger society it means clean air, clean water, healthy soil and wild places where nature can recover and regenerate the resources we’ve used. We can each do our part by making sure that we use only what we need and return things in the best possible condition. In our homes and lives we have some control of how we do that. So where should we start? Do you have an overall long-term plan or are you just committing random acts of greenness to collect rebate checks? I’ve found in my own journey, that I accomplish more when I have a plan. Read more

Shine on: Solar partnership yields energy, savings for farmers

Posted 7/8/18

By Danielle Endvick, Wisconsin Farmers Union Communications Director

(This article originally appeared in the June 2018 Newsletter of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. Reposted with permission.)

Ask any farmer who has considered solar energy on his or her farm what the biggest hesitation is, and you’ll likely get the same answer: cost.

But a new pilot program being launched by Wisconsin Farmers Union and key partners is aiming to turn the dream of on-farm solar energy into reality. Solar Powering Farms (SPF) is a financing program that seeks to make solar energy more attainable for Farmers Union members. The project has been made possible through a partnership with North Wind Renewable Energy and Legacy Solar Co-op.

“Certainly a lot of farmers have that inclination that they want to do something with solar, but for a lot of people the upfront cost is a concern,” said Rob Peck, solar design consultant for North Wind Renewable Energy, based in Stevens Point. Read more