Portage County encourages development of an aesthetic, healthy, and energy efficient environment (see section 8.5 of the Portage County Comprehensive Plan) and is committed to driving continual improvement in our solar market. This is Portage County’s page for information about local resources for solar development.
Portage County’s pursuit of SolSmart Certification (currently underway).
Through a recent partnership enlisting guidance from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), Portage County has been pursuing SolSmart Certification and working to be a solar-friendly community, where it is easy for residents and businesses to install solar energy systems. Portage County’s goals in this effort are noted in the Solar Statement that Portage County Executive Holman issued to the International City/County Management Association and The Solar Foundation at the start of this partnership in 2018.
Solar Rights in Wisconsin
Local regulations and permitting procedures pertaining to solar energy systems must comply with State Statutes, including §66.0401 and §66.0403 which protect solar rights in the State of Wisconsin. Solar energy systems require continued access to sunlight in order to keep operating. Accordingly, Wisconsin State Statutes also allow for the recording of Renewable Energy Resources Easements (§700.35) that may limit the height and/or location of a structure and/or vegetation on neighboring lands (where such agreements can be reached); allow for compensation in cases where a new structure on neighboring properties obstruct required sunlight (§700.41); and recognize obstructing structures and vegetative growth as a private nuisance if they occur after the installation of a solar energy system (§844.22). The onus is on you, the property owner or applicant, to know the provisions and how they might pertain to you.
General Information about Permits Required for Solar Energy Installations
Most solar energy installations require a permit from the municipality. A typical grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) installation in Portage County will require a permit from the municipality where the project is located, as well as approval from the utility company providing electric service to the area. It is common for professional installers to help clients acquire the necessary permits and approvals to complete a solar installation. Applications for municipal permits are generally reviewed by a municipal building inspector who checks to make sure that the project, as designed, will meet standards and requirements. A permit for a typical rooftop solar PV installation can potentially be issued by municipal staff within a few days. This may vary. A lengthier review process involving a hearing may be required if the application identifies neighboring properties which the applicant proposes to be restricted by the permit. Questions about municipal permits may be directed to the city, village or town where the project is located. For residents of Portage County’s unincorporated areas, contact information for each town’s designated building inspector is available here.
In addition, a zoning permit may be required for some projects, such as a ground-mounted installation where setback requirements apply. A city or village that administers their own zoning may have zoning requirements that apply therein. Portage County’s zoning ordinances apply throughout towns where Portage County administers zoning, and in unincorporated shoreland areas. Portage County’s zoning requires no additional zoning permit for rooftop solar installations that occur on existing buildings - yet does require a zoning permit for ground-mounted systems in order to ensure that setback requirements are met. In such cases, the permit can be issued by the Portage County Department of Planning and Zoning.
Solar Finance, Incentive, and Installer Resources
- Database of State, County, and Local - Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency
- Federal Investment Tax Credit for Solar – Solar Energy Industries Association link
- WI PACE – Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing
- Focus on Energy – Participating Utilities
- Renew Wisconsin – Solar Energy
- Clean Energy Project Builder – Find Local Companies
- Couillard Solar Foundation - couillardsolarfoundation.org
Solar Mapping and Production Value Resources
- PV Watts Calculator: Ground and Roof Analysis App developed by the National Renewable Energy Lab.
- Solar Project Builder: Solar Financial Model Simulator developed by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association with support from the US Department of Energy.
- State and Local Energy Data: This tool from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), U.S. Department of Energy compiles a variety community (local area) energy usage estimates and includes a rough approximation of solar production potential.
- Project Sunroof: Presently useful in some other locations (not yet covering communities in Portage County as of 2019), this Rooftop Solar Suitability App developed by Google for individual buildings, cities, and counties.
Local Energy Information and Resources
- Environment Energy and Transportation Section of the 2017 Portage County LIFE Report: See pages 69 and 70 of the 2017 LIFE report for current indicators of “Energy Use & Conservation” and “Energy Outlook”.
- Residential Energy Resources: A list of helpful residential energy resources identified on the website of the City of Stevens Point. This includes information and equipment such as Watts Up? electricity meter available for check-out at the Portage County Library.
- Extension Portage County’s Community Development educator supports people, organizations, and communities addressing a variety of local issues and opportunities including hopes for improved energy security, resilience, and sustainable development.
- Portage County’s Strategic Energy Management Plan and follow-up reports indicate what Portage County government has done to manage energy for county facilities and operations.
Resources for Renewable Energy Professionals (current and prospective):
- Mid-State Technical College (MSTC) offers courses and an associate degree in renewable energy.
- Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), headquartered here in Custer, offers professional training opportunities online and in-person.
Resources for Local Governments:
- Grow Solar Wisconsin Local Government Solar Toolkit for Wisconsin: Best Practices for Local Governments prepared by the Great Plains Institute, funded in part by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), U.S. Department of Energy.
- Model solar PV permitting checklist and forms: To assist people seeking permits for small-scale solar PV projects, municipalities are encouraged to issue a streamlined permitting checklist along with standardized forms for submitting a site plan and an electrical diagram. Municipalities in the process of creating or updating such a checklist and forms may find the following guidance and templates helpful.
- Wisconsin SolSmart Community Cohort Training: Solar PV Best Practices for Planning, Zoning, Permitting and Inspection Teams: Recording of a training session (webinar) on April 2, 2019.