HHCDA plans to equip 98 more houses with solar panels

By Ken Luchterhand

Neil Whitegull, executive director of Ho-Chunk Housing and Community Development Agency (HHCDA) hopes every house owned by HHCDA will be equipped with solar panels.
The organization has been working toward those ends and plans to equip another group of houses, this time houses from three communities in the Wisconsin Dells
HHCDA has been awarded a $600,000 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant, which will be combined with the required investment of $200,000 from HHCDA, Whitegull said.
The organization had a similar solar panel project for Sandpillow in Black River Falls about three or four years ago, Whitegull said. That project included 52 units.
While solar panels are available to complete a variety of tasks, the solar panels that HHCDA plans to purchase and assemble on their houses are photovoltaic, meaning they will produce electricity from sunlight. That electricity will be tied into the electrical grid to reduce the amount needed from other sources, thereby reducing the electric bill each month.
The upcoming project will equip 98 single family and multifamily homes in the Wisconsin Dells Area, which includes the Indian Heights, Ho-Chunk Village, and Winnebago Heights (also known as Christmas Mountain) communities.
They hope to complete the rest of the HHCDA house inventory next year if a similar grant could be obtained. That project would cover the houses in Blue Wing in Tomah, Chak Ha Chee in Nekoosa, and Indian Mission in Black River Falls. The total of those houses is 49.
“We hope to have all of them finished by the end of July,” Whitegull said. “That’s the contract end date.”
One obstacle is obtaining the power usage from current residents.
“What we need from tenants is a signed release form to collect electrical usage,” said HHCDA Development Director Terri Schilke. “The form will, authorize us to obtain their 12-month kilowatt usage. No other information will be released, not the dollar amount, not anything personal, just their usage.”
The data is important because it allows HHCDA to obtain state dollars for the solar panels under a renewable energy rebate program. Without that information, they will not receive the money.
In addition, it helps the HHCDA crew to match the appropriate size panels based on usage.
So far, the response to their request is dismal.
“We’ve sent out three notices with the forms, even included self-stamped addressed envelopes,” Schilke said. “We’ve had two informational meetings. We’ve even gone door-to-door.”
Only about a third of the people have responded.
“It’s to help them,” she said. “We’ve had a good response in Jackson County, but not other places.”
Of the communities set for solar panels this year, Ho-Chunk Village is the largest, with 56 units.
“The main emphasis is to reduce utility payments for low-income families,” he said.
Other aspects are considered, too, such as a lower carbon footprint, meaning it reduces the consumption of nonrenewable energy and reduces pollution.
“We have to look at it as part of the sustainable movement for the Ho-Chunk people,” Whitegull said.
In agreement with that effort, other avenues have been part of the overall effort of HHCDA to lessen energy consumption, such as increasing insulation in the walls and ceiling, weatherproofing windows, and as simple as placing an insulating blanket on the water heater.
Through the years, about 25 solar hot water heaters have been installed on HHCDA houses.
Whitegull said each of their new structures HHCDA constructs meets or exceeds the industry standard. The attention to details is so great, four years ago, HUD awarded HHCDA with a Best Practices Recognition.
HHCDA has an Energy Task Force that is involved with the strategic planning process. Suggestions from those planning sessions are then put into place, using those ideas as a road map, Whitegull said.