Your Guide to Solar Panels in Wisconsin: 7 Steps to Solar Panels in Wisconsin
The average photovoltaic (PV) system in Wisconsin pays for itself in just ten years — faster than the national average of 12 — and then saves an average of over $21,000 on energy bills.
Wisconsin ranks 23rd in the country for its rate of solar adoption, but solar systems are more valuable in the Badger State than they are in most others.1 Although the state sees fewer sunny days per year than most others, there’s still plenty of sun to offset the below-average electric bills in the area.2 The electricity rates are also above-average, so every kilowatt-hour generated using solar panels is worth more in WI.
The installation cost of solar panels in WI averages around $18,200, but Wisconsin solar incentives and solar rebate programs help bring that number down closer to $12,500 or below. Generally speaking, solar is more affordable and valued higher than in most states.
In this guide, we’ll be explaining the process of going solar from start to finish so you understand exactly what to expect from the research phase through installation.
Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels
Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider
Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract
Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day
Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels
Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO)
All Energy Solar
- Full-service home energy solutions
- Excellent reputation
- NABCEP-certified technicians
Sun Badger Solar
- Offers products from leading manufacturers
- Competitive pricing
- Offers rewards for customer referrals
- No leases or PPAs
- Relatively young company
- Expansive service area
- Award-winning company
- Representatives are experts on local policies
- Slightly limited service offerings
- Some reported issues with door-to-door sales
- Relatively young company
Step 1: What to Consider When Buying Solar Panels in Wisconsin
Although solar equipment is more affordable in Wisconsin than in most other states, a complete system will still total over $18,000 upfront, on average, so it’s a sizable investment. In the following sections, we’ll explain some of the research you can do to ensure that investment is worthwhile for your specific property.
Research If Solar Panels Are a Good Fit For You in Wisconsin
Most properties in Wisconsin will benefit greatly from installing PV panels, but not every house is equally as suitable for conversion. Before diving into solar conversion, most residents will want to know that solar is a good fit for their home in particular. It’s important to do some research to confirm that your home is a good candidate.
We recommend starting by figuring out how many panels you need to power your home. This will give you a good idea of general solar viability. The average system size in the state is 7 kilowatts (kW). If your suggested system is much larger, then there’s likely some factor limiting your home solar production.
Tree coverage on your roof can lead to lower production capability. Additionally, panels generate less electricity under cloud coverage, so homes in areas that see below-average sunny days annually will naturally need larger systems to compensate.
Wisconsin as a whole sees around 188 days of sunshine annually.3 If you live in a city that has particularly cloudy weather and sees less sunlight, your panels will be slightly less valuable overall.
We recommend checking local weather conditions to confirm you’re in a good position for solar adoption. States that see much less sun can still benefit from solar, so while cloudy weather doesn’t mean solar won’t be worth it, it does lower panel value overall and should be considered carefully along with other factors.
Consider Net Metering
Another crucial consideration to make when figuring out if solar is right for your home is the net metering program your electric company offers. Net metering — also called net energy metering or NEM — is a policy that earns you energy credits on future bills for any excess power your panels produce and sends to the grid.
Ultimately, NEM helps increase your solar savings and can push your monthly electric bill down to $0 per month if your system is sized appropriately.
Net energy metering is mandated by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in Wisconsin, so all residents will have access to this solar perk. However, the rate at which excess power is credited is not set, so the overall value you see from NEM will depend on the credit rate offered by your electric company.
Xcel Energy — operating under the local subsidiary, Northern States Power — has one of the best NEM policies in the state. It offers the full retail rate for all excess generation, allows credits to roll over for an entire year and then buys out all accrued kWh at the end of the billing year using the avoided-cost rate per kWh.4
Wisconsin Electric Power Company (WE Energy) uses a much lower rate to credit excess energy, called the “customer’s buy-back energy rate.”5 The rate sits close to the avoided-cost rate.
Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) uses an “energy credit rate” to determine your NEM credit rate, which usually comes out close to the avoided-cost rate.6 Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS) offers below-retail credits for all energy that roll over monthly.7 The rate is also close to the avoided-cost rate.
The higher your NEM credit rate is, the more valuable your solar array will be, the faster it will pay itself off and the more you’ll save over the life of your system.
The table below includes some solar statistics for PV systems installed in Wisconsin as compared to systems in the U.S. as a whole. This should help illustrate how valuable solar can be in your area.
|Wisconsin State Average||United States National Average|
|Solar Power System Size Required||7 kW||9 kW|
|Typical Cost Per Watt to Install Photovoltaic (PV) Equipment||$2.60||$2.66|
|Average Total Solar Panel Cost Before Federal Solar Income Tax Credit||$18,200||$23,940|
|Average Federal Solar Tax Credit Value||$5,460||$7,182|
|Average Total System Cost After Federal Credit||$12,740||$16,758|
|Average Panel Payback Period||10 years||12 years|
|Average Lifetime Savings of Converting to Solar||$21,005||$22,379|
As you can see, the lifetime savings are expected to be lower in Wisconsin than in most others, but the total installation cost is also lower. This means that the overall return on investment is higher in your state than in the country as a whole.
Research How to Finance Solar Panels
After you determine that solar is a good option for your home, you can start figuring out which solar financing option works best for you.
If you haven’t done so already, we recommend using our solar calculator to figure out the system size that’s appropriate for your property. You can then multiply the watts you need to be installed by the average cost per watt in Wisconsin — $2.60 — to get an idea of what panels will cost you.
This total is likely to be close to $18,000, but don’t be discouraged. There are solar tax incentives you can take advantage of to bring down costs, like the property tax and sales tax exemptions. Additionally, don’t forget that your solar energy system is expected to pay for itself over time and then some.
Below, we’ll explain the four primary payment options you have for your solar power system:
- Cash purchase: A cash purchase comes with the highest initial cost. However, you end up avoiding interest and owning your system right away, which means a lower conversion cost overall and maximized savings in the long run.
- Solar loan: With a solar loan, you pay just a down payment — sometimes $0 — and finance the remaining cost of your system. This is far more accessible, although your system total will be a bit higher, and your savings will be a little lower due to the interest tacked onto your costs.
- Solar lease: With a solar lease, you pay a rental fee every month to get access to the panels installed on your roof. The energy they generate is yours to use and usually leads to a lower monthly energy expenditure overall, even with the monthly rental fee considered. Solar leases yield far lower savings over time than cash or a loan, and they don’t let you take the federal investment tax credit (ITC).
- Power purchase agreement (PPA): A PPA is an arrangement in which panels are installed on your roof at no cost. Rather than paying for your system, you agree to buy the electricity that the panels generate. This payment option saves the least amount of money over time, although it’s highly accessible with minimal upfront cost.
When deciding on one of the above financing options, we suggest you consider how long the system will take to pay for itself. The shorter the panel payback period, as this timeframe is referred to, the more you’ll save over time. We recommend optimizing the panel payback period within your budget.
Step 2: Getting a Quote from a Solar Provider
After you decide which payment option is right for you, you can start reaching out to solar contractors to get formal solar quotes. We’ll explain the process of getting estimates and what to look for in a solar provider below.
Picking a Solar Installer
Choosing a solar installer is an intimidating process for most, and for good reason. Wisconsin is home to over 80 solar installation companies.8 And every single one of them offers different pricing, different warranty coverage and varying levels of customer service and quality. We recommend looking for the following qualities when deciding on an installer:
- The company should have at least five years of service history in the solar industry in your area.
- The installer should carry high-quality, tier-one solar brands.
- The provider should have reasonable prices and offer access to your preferred payment method — usually only questionable with leases and PPAs.
- The company should have good warranty coverage — we’ll explain what this means later.
- The provider should employ technicians that are certified by NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners).
- The installer should have positive customer reviews online and a history of customer satisfaction with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
To get you started in your research, below is our list of the top five solar companies in Wisconsin. All of these providers meet most or all of the criteria above:
- All Energy Solar — Regional installer
- Sun Badger Solar — Regional installer
- Arch Electric — Local Installer
- Everlight Solar — Regional installer
- Olson Solar Energy — Local installer
What to Expect After Requesting a Quote
Within a day or two of providing your contact information and requesting a solar quote, a sales representative should contact you to discuss your solar project further. They will ask for a copy of a recent utility bill and will likely require information about any electricity-using appliances and heating or cooling equipment in your house.
After your initial call, the sales rep should schedule a roof inspection to take measurements and make sure your roof is suitable for panel installation. With all of that information gathered, your rooftop solar project will move into the design phase, after which you’ll receive a formal solar proposal.
The proposal is the final quote, which includes information about the system that is custom-designed to fit your property. We suggest looking for the below information in your proposal. Your sales rep should also contact you to discuss the quote, as it can get pretty complicated with all of the below information:
- Schematics for where all of your equipment will be installed.
- A total system price before and after solar incentives and rebates, including the federal solar tax credit and the state’s Focus On Energy solar program.
- The size of your system and how much energy it’s expected to produce monthly and annually.
- An estimated panel payback period and estimated lifetime savings you’ll see.
- Information about your warranty coverage.
- Information about your payment method.
- Fees that are included in your system total for inspections, permits and interconnection applications.
Getting to the point of just one solar proposal is time-consuming, but we suggest going through the process one or two more times with other providers in your area. This will allow you to choose the quote that provides the best value for the money.
Plus, some companies price-match or will offer discounts or free add-on products — like EV chargers — to sweeten the deal if they know you have other estimates on hand.
Consider Purchasing Solar Accessories
Solar accessories allow you to customize your solar array even further, and they can add functionality and value to your system. We recommend including accessories in your initial solar quote requests, as the federal tax credit can often apply to these products as well, saving you money.
Below are some of the most popular solar add-ons in Wisconsin, along with a brief explanation as to why each is popular:
- Solar batteries: Solar batteries like the Tesla Powerwall give you access to effective one-to-one net metering since your excess energy can be stored and used when you need it. Batteries can save you money and make your solar system worth more than ever before, given that most current NEM rates are below the retail value.
- Electric vehicle (EV) chargers: According to local news sources, EV sales in the Badger State increased by around 40% in 2021 alone.9 With the shift toward electricity-powered cars, more and more residents are opting to install at-home charging stations to make driving their EVs more convenient.
- Energy efficiency upgrades: Residents in the Midwest and Wisconsin, in particular, pay more for electricity than most Americans, so most look for ways to improve home energy efficiency to bring heating and cooling costs down.10 Many solar providers in the state offer such upgrades, which include things like new windows and doors, replacing insulation, upgrading roofing materials and installing solar water heaters.
Step 3: Signing a Solar Contract in Wisconsin
After you carefully review all of the solar proposals you get and choose the one that suits you best, you can finally sign the contract with that solar contractor. We’ll explain a few things we recommend looking for in your solar contract and what to expect after you sign in the following sections.
How Do Solar Warranties Work in Wisconsin?
One of the most important aspects of your contract, in our opinion, is the section detailing the warranty coverage that’s included. There are three types of solar warranties, all of which help protect your solar investment:
- Equipment warranties: Equipment warranties cover things like manufacturer defects in your PV equipment. These usually last for 25 years.
- Efficiency warranties: Efficiency warranties guarantee that your panels won’t lose a specific percentage of their starting efficiency over a given time. The industry standard for these warranties guarantees no more than 20% degradation in efficiency over 20 years.
- Workmanship warranties: Workmanship warranties guarantee that the installation labor won’t lead to any panel damage or property damage. Often not included in these coverages are roof leaks, although some companies do include roof leak coverage. Since Wisconsinites see above-average snowfall every year, roof leak coverage is quite helpful.11 Most labor warranties last for ten years.
When Can I Expect Solar Service to Go Live?
From the time you sign your solar contract to the day your panels are activated and can start generating power for your home, you’ll likely have to wait between three and six months in Wisconsin. There are a few things that can delay the process and extend your installation timeline even more. These include the following:
- Your solar contractor is backed up with requests and installations due to increasing demand in the state.
- Your building department is taking longer than expected to approve solar installation permits.
- Your electric company causes delays with interconnection if they are backed up with other requests.
- The weather in the state, particularly in the winter, is sometimes not conducive to rooftop solar installation. Snow and rain can cause minor delays in the process.
Solar Panel Permits in Wisconsin
Building permits and/or electrical permits are mandated by every municipality in Wisconsin, so filing for the necessary permits is required before you can move forward with the installation.
Thankfully, your solar contractor will be the one filling out the necessary permit applications and providing the required documentation to the building department. You will only be responsible for the permit application fee, which can vary based on where you live.
For example, the City of Milwaukee has an expedited solar permitting process, which is unlikely to cause delays in your installation timeline. The city charges just $70 for the necessary permits.12
The City of Madison charges just $21 for the permit and inspection fees, which is one of the lowest rates in the state.13 Green Bay charges $50 for the electrical permit required for solar conversion.14
In most cases, your permit fees will total between $50 and $250, although there are some exceptions.
If you’re looking for specific solar permitting costs in your area, you can ask your solar contractor, check your solar proposal for estimations or contact your building department directly.
Solar & Utility Interconnection
Another critical part of the preparation process for installation is applying for interconnection. Interconnection is the term used to describe how your panels and the electric grid interact, so it governs and gives you access to NEM. As you can imagine, applying for interconnection plays a major role in how much your system can save you over time.
Your solar installer should also be filing for interconnection, so you don’t need to worry about filing paperwork or scheduling an inspection with your utility company. However, you will be responsible for paying any application fees that are charged for the connection and inspection. This fee can vary based on your electric company.
For example, Northern States Power (Xcel Energy) charges $100 for the application, and it uses a convenient online portal for managing applications.15 WE Energy doesn’t charge any application fees for smaller residential solar systems.16 MGE doesn’t charge an application fee either, and it uses printable and online applications for convenience.17
Applying for interconnection and waiting for your utility company to approve the application and complete the final inspection to confirm your panels can be activated can add weeks or even months to your installation timeline. However, since interconnection gives you access to NEM, it’s well worth the wait and any application fees you’ll be paying.
Step 4: What to Expect on Solar Panel Installation Day in Wisconsin
On the day your panels are scheduled to be installed, your installation team will likely arrive early in the morning and begin the installation process as soon as local regulations allow. They will likely continue to work through the afternoon, as solar installations take between four and eight hours, on average, in Wisconsin.
A common question we get asked by aspiring solar customers is, “do I need to be home for solar panel installation?” You should plan on having at least one adult home all day when your solar panel system is being installed. The technicians will need periodic access to your home to make the connections to your electrical system and to install any add-on equipment.
Some installers will schedule the inspection with your utility provider for interconnection on the day of the installation to save time getting your panels connected to the grid and activated. If that’s the case, you can expect your solar inspection to add about a half hour to your installation timeline.
Step 5: Final Inspection for Installed Solar Panels in Wisconsin
After the panels are installed on your home, your local building department will need to conduct its final inspection to close out your permits and issue certificates of occupancy for your solar PV system. This is an important step that can help prevent you from accruing violations for open permits, and it can also help avoid issues that can arise if you go to sell your home with open permits.
Some inspectors will conduct an exterior inspection if you just installed panels, which won’t require you to be home to provide interior access. Others may want to check the connection to your electrical panel and will require access.
If access is necessary, your installer should coordinate a date and time for the inspection, and you’ll need to be home for that appointment. If you miss a scheduled inspection, you will likely be charged a re-inspection fee.
After the building department completes its inspection, you’ll be the only one keeping track of your system performance and safety. You’ll need to report any issues to your solar company and/or electricity provider.
In some cases, your installer will set you up with solar monitoring software — depending on your panel manufacturer — that helps you keep track of production and performance. Companies like SunPower and Tesla offer mobile apps for solar monitoring for free.
Step 6: Permission to Operate (PTO) in Wisconsin
The last step is getting permission to operate (PTO) from your local utility provider. PTO is the final confirmation that your system was connected to the grid safely and according to code. After you get PTO, your panels can be turned on and will start providing power to your property.
Your installer may come back to the property to activate your system, or they might get on a video call with you to explain how to turn it on. You can also ask about solar monitoring software available to you if you haven’t already been set up with an app, and you should ask about how to operate the emergency shut-off switch for your panels.
In case of an emergency, like an electrical fire, you should shut off the switch if safe to do so, dial 911 and then report the issue to your electric company. We’ll include the emergency numbers for some of the larger utility companies in your area below for quick reference:
- Northern States Power (Xcel Energy): 1-800-895-1999
- WE Energy: 1-800-242-9137
- Madison Gas & Electric: 608-252-1111
Step 7: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Solar Energy in Wisconsin
Finally, you can sit back, relax and watch your solar savings start to rack up! Your panels should be fully functional at this point, which means your monthly energy costs should be significantly lower, your carbon footprint and contribution to emissions and pollution will be smaller and your reliance on fossil fuels and your electric company will be minimal.
The last thing worth noting is that your clean energy system increases your home’s value, so you should see a return on investment whether you use your panels yourself or sell your home after going solar.
Find a Local Installer in Wisconsin
One of your most important decisions when making the switch to solar energy is the company that will handle the solar PV system installation. This will affect your warranty coverage, your total system cost and the level of customer service you receive, among other things.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there are more than 60 installers to choose from in WI.18 Below, we’ll include links to lists of the top solar companies in major cities across The Badger State.
If you’re looking for more general recommendations or need companies outside of these major cities, you can also check out our guide to choosing a solar installer in Wisconsin.
FAQ: Solar Panels in Wisconsin
Below, we’ll answer some of the most common questions we get from homeowners in your area about the solar conversion process.
No. The state enacted solar and wind rights back in 1982, which protects its residents’ right to install and enjoy clean energy sources, including solar power and wind power.19 As such, homeowners associations (HOAs) do not have the authority to prohibit PV panel installation or other clean energy solutions.
Yes! Wisconsin solar customers save a bit less than the average U.S. resident over the lifespan of their solar arrays, but they also enjoy lower renewable energy system costs and an overall higher return on investment.
Most Wisconsinites find that solar is well worth it, as systems pay for themselves in an average of just ten years and then save an additional $21,000, on average.
Wisconsin solar panels get exposed to some severe weather, but in most cases, there aren’t any critical conditions that severely limit panel lifespan in the area. As such, most residents will find that their panels last for around 25 years or more.