Milwaukee eyes its own rooftop solar mandate with a California clone

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Eyeing the success of the recently-passed California solar mandate, Milwaukee Common Council Member Tony Zielinski has proposed legislation that would require all new residential units in the city to include solar arrays, starting in 2019.

Zielinski told Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) that the idea for his proposal came while he was reading about California’s rooftop solar mandate.

“I think this is just one step in a series of steps that we need to undertake to help improve our environment and gradually reduce our reliance on fuels,” Zielinski said while appearing on WPR. ” There’s a whole myriad of other initiatives… I think we need to add more. I just think that this is one step and there’ll be additional steps down the road as well.”

As is true in California, the most immediate impacts that Milwaukee will see pending the bill’s passing are higher residential construction costs and a boom in solar jobs. In terms of rising costs, Zielinski states that the average new construction project will see an additional $10,000 price tag. That cost, however, would be offset in an estimated 5 years when the energy savings of the new resident are factored in.

The legislation would also create hundreds of solar jobs in the area, which is reassuring development for a state that only has 2,900 jobs in the solar industry. Job development, along with the decreased reliance on fossil fuels and decreased fossil fuel emissions are the three prongs Zielinski uses to describe the legislation as a “win-win-win situation” for the city of Milwaukee.

However, when Zielinski says that he is basing his legislation off of California’s solar mandate, it will be interesting to see how close he follows that mandate going forward. Specifically, in California, the wording of the law outlines that for homes where rooftop solar is impractical, participation in community solar and storage projects, so long as those projects are designed and constructed at the same time, meet the code’s requirements. Were this to be included it could be huge, as Milwaukee does not currently have a strong community solar program.

If this legislation also provided a pathway for the development of a community solar program, that would be quite literally unprecedented development for the 40th ranked state in terms of total solar installed. According to SEIA, Wisconsin as a whole has only 56 installed MW.

While Zielinski describes himself as an environmentalist, he also cited that a large portion of his district was in favor of this type of mandate. While this may be surprising coming from Wisconsin, it echoes national sentiment. A July poll by Morning Consult found that nearly 2/3 of Americans would support a solar mandate for new homes.

The legislation is at more of an uphill battle than other bills in the city would be, as the city needs to gain enabling authority from the state just to move forward with introducing the legislation. Zielinski expects support from Wisconsin Governor-elect Tony Evers (D), who he anticipates to be a “champion” of the bill.