Solar Panels Installed on Wauwatosa City Hall and Library

Solar panels are installed on top of the Wauwatosa City Hall and library buildings.

Credit // Arch Electric

Solar panels are installed on top of the Wauwatosa City Hall and library buildings.

The eleven members of the Wauwatosa Sustainability Committee meet at the fire station on the first Wednesday of every month with the goal of making the city a more environmentally friendly place.

After having success with the installation of solar panels on the Public Works building, the next step was powering the heart of the city.

“We’re installing solar panels on the Civic Center building here, City Hall and the library,” said Wauwatosa Mayor Denis McBride. “First of all, we need to reduce our carbon footprint. But beyond that, if we can do it in a way that’s cost efficient, why shouldn’t we do it? So if we can put panels on the roof and save 50% of our costs? Why wouldn’t you do that if the numbers add up, and the numbers do add up.”

On Jan.19, 2021, the Wauwatosa Common council approved a $518,207.00 contract for the construction of solar panels on the roof of City Hall and Library building. The city expects to recoup the costs of installation of the solar panels in approximately 14 years. Success will be measured based on how close the production levels come to the estimated amounts of 500,000 kilowatt hours per year. That is roughly enough electricity to power 33 homes.

According to Facilities Manager Chuck Pomerenke the motivation behind the installation of solar panels was the environment but financial benefit is a major bonus.

“When they start getting into the numbers and seeing how the numbers work out, it becomes financial, it becomes easy to justify the project and be able to move it forward,” said Pomerenke.

The process of ‘moving forward’ was left to the charge of top residential contracting company Arch Electric. “I would say that 80% of our customers do it for economic reasons,” said Business Development Coordinator JD Smith. “When you look at solar as an investment [..], then it’s not hard to pull the trigger.”

Smith believes that the effect of the recoil following Wauwatosa pulling that trigger will spread farther than the city borders.

“It’s really exciting in the big picture for our state because a city like Wauwatosa is taking the lead on this,” said Smith. “This sends a strong message that this isn’t something that’s a pipe dream. This is viable, the numbers just make sense and work. And more importantly, we can point to the projects that have succeeded in Wisconsin. Cities all over our state can look to what has been done here and say Well how did they make it work? Is it working? And the answer will be yes.”

Numerous cities across the country have heard the same message that Wauwatosa did. The EPA has a portal which tracks progress and prompts local governments to meet their economic and environmental goals through the installation of solar panels. Notable cities include New York, Washington DC, Orlando, Portland and Chicago. Madison and Eau Claire are both cities closer to home pursuing solar energy.

Credit // Arch Electric

The process of solar installation may seem daunting and complex. However once a contract is approved, Smith explained that the construction is actually surprisingly simple. So simple in fact that solar installer Nathan Meleski refers to the process as “building with adult legos”.

“Everything is based off of how much energy does this building, in this case use and then how can solar take off either a portion of that or take off of the entirety of it depending on what your goals are? Once we size that, then we know roughly what kind of production we need, then we take a look at the roof,” said Smith. “So then when you figure okay, we’ve got this much energy we need to save, how many panels can we set, then it gets into a little bit more technical details.”

That technical work is done by qualified electricians, but the construction work is often completed by young people newly hired, explained Meleski.

“We have a lot of 18 year olds coming here fresh out of high school, you start out as being a solar installer. And that’s what will teach you how to build with giant adult Legos, which is really, really cool.”

It would make sense that young people make up a large percentage of solar installers, both for the accessibility of the job and for its significance. Solar energy is acknowledged as a pillar of renewable energy and building a more sustainable future. This is recognized by Mayor McBride, a parent and grandparent himself.

“We want to make sure that what we leave to the next generation is something better than what we’ve seen over the last few years with the climate change that we’ve been experiencing” said McBride. He went on to quote the popular proverb, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” before saying, “I do care about what I’m leaving to my children. What I am leaving to my grandchildren. So we do care.[..] So let’s all work together.”

For more information about the installation of solar panels on the city hall building check out this video by Claire Guttormson and Eve Lazarski.