Making the switch to solar with Adam Fischer
Updated: Jul 27
Wegner Roofing & Solar Branch President talks through solar energy opportunities for South Dakotans
This post is part of SoDak 350’s monthly “Climate Champions” blog series, where we will be chatting with leaders in our community that are doing great work to build a sustainable future for eastern South Dakota.
This month we had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Fischer, Branch President at Wegner Roofing & Solar Sioux Falls. We’re chatting with Adam to celebrate National Solar Appreciation Day and explore opportunities for South Dakotans to make the switch to solar power.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Give us an overview of your work at Wegner Roofing & Solar. How did you get into the solar business?
Wegner Roofing & Solar is a family-owned business that was started and founded by the Wegner family in 2011 in Billings, Montana. Since then, they’re grown into seven branches in the Upper Midwest, including locally in Sioux Falls, which is great for the local community to have a reputable brand and highest-rated general contractor in the region in their own backyard. What we do and what we bring differently to the market is our ability to do solar. We educate people on the benefits of solar that many people in the region are not aware of - how it can help save their households thousands of dollars, as well as hedge inflation and help create a sustainable future. Our main goal with solar is to educate and create the know-how for the particular client or individuals that we talk to - either at the doorstep, at a trade show, or even in the grocery store - just to spread the news on why solar and sustainable energy is the way of the future.
Can you talk a little bit more about those benefits? What are some specific benefits that folks in Sioux Falls and South Dakota can see from solar power?
First and foremost, the inquiry that we get the most often is “Tell us about the 30% tax credit.” At the end of August, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act. One of the key pieces of that legislation was a 30% tax credit for investing in residential solar. So you get 30% of the total cost of the system back as a tax credit against your tax liability for the year. We always ask people to seek the advice of their tax professional about how that directly affects them - we’re the solar people, not the tax professionals!
Secondly, there’s the added value to your home. The home appreciation goes up by adding and investing into it. This applies not only for residences but also commercial buildings, and more specifically for agricultural buildings. There are multiple grants out there - there’s the REAP grant, there’s a couple different programs through the USDA as well, that allow individuals to take advantage of investing into solar and sustainable energy.
When people see a home that has solar, they know it’s an efficient home, they know that the utility bills are going to be somewhat lower or more of a fixed rate, as opposed to the spikes that we've become accustomed to with energy inflation, which have been roughly 6-8% year after year. There used to be two constants in the world, death and taxes, but now there’s a third - energy inflation!
Some people are looking into solar for the green aspect, for environmental purposes of offsetting carbon dioxide output into the environment. Solar also creates energy independence, so you’re owning your own energy instead of renting it month after month from an energy provider.
What does the process look like for someone who's interested in getting solar panels for their home, from the very beginning all the way to final installation?
If someone is seeking us online or saw us on a trade show or saw one of our billboards, they should give us a call first and foremost. We’ll ask a couple high-level questions, things like what is your perception of solar, what do you know about solar already, what is the general outcome that you’d like to get from solar?
Then, we like to sit down and look at your household’s 12-month energy usage report - just looking at kilowatts and watts per month and per year so that we can verify if the house is going to benefit from solar. An array can cost anywhere from $1,000 all the way to $100,000, so you’re going to be limited by a couple different factors: number one, your budget; number two, the size and layout of your house; and number three, your overall energy needs and what you’re planning for the future. Are you planning on investing in an electric vehicle in the future? Well then, your energy needs are gonna go up, so you want to plan accordingly. And really, there’s no cookie-cutter approach with solar and sustainable energy - every household, every home layout, pitch, and property are all different from one another. Everybody’s specific needs are different, and what we enjoy is learning and listening to everybody’s situations and what they want to do.
Next, we get out to the property and do a full property inspection. We’ll get on the roof, and we’ll inspect your shingles or your metal roof or your flat roof, whatever you’ve got, to make sure that the roof is not compromised or of severe age. The last thing you want to do is invest in something that you know is compromised. We’ll take a look at where your utilities are at, the structure of the building, and aspects of the property itself. Are there a lot of mature trees? How do your slopes lay out? We get in and look at all of this with boots on the ground, as opposed to just looking at the aerial view on Google.
Once the proposal comes back from our design team, we’ll sit down with the client and talk dollars and cents. Our aim is always to be very transparent with people - we’re not going to allow somebody to invest in a large system if it doesn’t make sense. We’re going to be very open and honest with them and we’re going to be educators to make sure they go with a system and size that gets them the best return on investment.
And then if it’s something that they look forward to doing, we move forward with installation. We have a distributing partner that’s based out of Cedar Rapids, so material is very quick to get here. We have installation crews that come in, we have CAD drawings that are approved by engineers and by multiple code officials to make sure that we meet all municipality codes and IRC codes. And then the crew goes to work! We have a qualified partner, an electrician with Thompson Electric, so we can install the system and then activate it shortly after!
Overall, the general time frame is roughly three months from start to finish. We handle all the inspections, all the code appointments, all the interconnection agreements, all the communication with the service providers as well as the code officials. And all of that is included in the overall cost of the system when you go back to calculate the 30% tax credit.
Of course, everything has its nuances, and obviously with the weather as volatile as it’s been here in the Upper Midwest, there have definitely been some hiccups this year. But throughout the entire process, we communicate, we overcommunicate, and we try as best we can to keep everything moving in a forward direction.
When you’re out talking to folks about solar, what are some of the biggest questions that you’re getting? What’s something you wish more people knew about solar?
Well, the number one question is always “Tell me about the 30% credit. What does that mean?” And that’s really the biggest question that we get.
Next big question is “How much does a system cost?” And again, every situation is different. The consumption in your home is different than your neighbors. And that’s what we really love about it, the fact that there is no monotony - every house is different, each one is a different challenge.
And number three, “are we local?” and “what does a system actually look like?” All very great questions.
The one thing I wish people would realize more is how affordable it actually is. I think people have a connotation that it’s too expensive - or that it doesn’t work here in South Dakota. The state of Maine has less sunlight than we do, but solar there has an 80% acceptance rate. South Dakota has over 200 days of sunlight a year, which ranks about 17th or 18th in the nation. So we’re not the best, but we’re definitely not the worst, and some states with a lot less sunlight than us have way more installed capacity than we do at this point. I think there’s the connotation that just because it’s cold out, you’re not going to produce any solar energy - but there are a lot of days here in the wintertime when we all have to wear sunglasses because it’s so bright out! The air is cleaner, it’s crisper, so the wintertime is a time when you’re going to get a lot of really good production, just like in the summer.
What are some next steps for your business or some things you’re looking forward to in the future?
We have lots of goals as a company, but our main goal is to continue to educate, to be an advocate, to work with partners in our area like SoDak 350 who have a great vision for a cleaner future, a brighter future, a sustainable future. It’s just letting the public and the community know that there’s a trusted partner in this, that they don’t have to reach all the way to Colorado to get somebody to do a design, that they can literally stop by our office right here in Sioux Falls.
We also have something super exclusive to our neck of the woods. We just recently started offering a GAF Timberline solar shingle that we have the exclusive rights to install in the Upper Midwest. So rather than a traditional racking, where you’re suspended off the roof deck about 6-8 inches, this is a shingle that is laying right on the slope of your roof that is in conjunction with your shingles and your roof system, so it’s pretty cool! The systems and the technology of solar are ever-changing, but more on the software side of things than they are on the hardware. The hardware’s pretty stable, which is why most if not all of our manufacturers have anywhere between a 25- and 30-year warranty on all of their parts and pieces.
It’s fun to have discussions and that’s really just our goal - to keep talking to people and making them aware of how affordable and accessible solar can be.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We’re located a couple blocks east of Roosevelt High School, at 41st and Valley View Road. We’re always just a click and a phone call away. We’re also on Facebook, constantly posting builds and information on why solar is great for you and how it can save your family thousands, and how you can contribute to a greener future! We have the know-how, we have the experience, and we have the team to create a sustainable future for the community and the region.