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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Solar Panels Crop Up For Wisconsin Growers

by Michael Vickerman, Program and Policy Director, RENEW Wisconsin

Signs of solar energy’s increasing appeal to growers and farmers continue to proliferate across rural Wisconsin. In the span of three weeks, RENEW took part in three separate events that document how growers are turning to the sun to power their operations as well as to nurture their crops. 

 Heartland Farms' new operation center in Adams County
is powered in part from a 95 kilowatt solar array.
The first stop took us to Heartland Farms, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of chipping potatoes to many brands you see on grocery store shelves, located in Adams County a few miles west of Hancock.  A fifth generation family operation with over 24,000 acres under cultivation, Heartland dedicated its newly opened Farm Operations, Technology and Training Center on August 4th. On its roof sits a 95-kilowatt array of photovoltaic panels that help power Heartland’s offices and the information technology needed to manage an operation that ships 11,000 semiloads of potatoes each year. 

Incorporating sustainable features, including an onsite source of renewable electricity, into the functionality of the new building was a top priority of Alicia Pavelski, the family member who oversaw its design and construction. Says Pavelski: "Agriculture and sustainability have gone hand in hand for ages to ensure resources are available for generations to come. With advances in solar energy over the past few years, it was a logical next step for our farm. In the few short months we have had our array, it has been incredible to see the energy it has generated." 

Stevens Point-based North Wind Renewable Energy designed and installed Heartland’s solar electric system. North Wind has constructed similar-sized PV systems for Central Waters Brewery and Blenker Building Systems in Amherst, and Gaea’s Farm, a training facility for horses in Walworth County.

This 24 kW array produces about half the electricity
used at Brockway Cranberry, Inc., near Black River Falls.
The next week found us at the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association (WSCSGA) Summer Meeting, Field Day and Trade Show on the grounds of Brockway Cranberry Inc., located a few miles southeast of Black River Falls.  A supplier of cranberries to Ocean Spray, Brockway installed approximately 48 kilowatts of solar generation in 2012 and 2013, which powers the reservoir pumps as well as heats and lights the buildings on the premises.  This spring Brockway put in four smaller arrays that aerate the reservoir water at the 86-acre marsh.

Thanks to Brockway’s arrays and the abundant sunshine provided by Mother Nature on August 10th, the association’s meeting and trade show was no doubt the first 100% solar-powered cranberry industry  event anywhere.  For further information on Brockway Cranberry and its owner, Jim Bible, visit the accompanying article by Deb Dorshorst that appears in the program guide for that event.  

U.S. Solar Mounts, a solar contractor and ground mount system designer in nearby Sparta, constructed all of Brockway’s solar systems.  Eric Pipkin, the owner of U.S. Solar Mounts, specializes in designing heavy-duty mounting structures supporting solar installations. His company also engineers and builds custom and containerized power systems (primarily solar) for off-grid and remote applications.

Many large food brands have adopted aggressive sustainability goals for their own operations, and they expect their suppliers to adhere to the same tough standards that they do. For Heartland’s Pavelski and Brockway’s Bible, their investment in solar energy flows from a business ethic built around the careful use of natural resources and avoiding waste wherever possible. 

On August 16th, we journeyed to the Jerry Smith Country Store and Pumpkin Farm a few miles northwest of Kenosha. There, preparations were underway to slot in the final panel on a 9 kW array on the roof of a cheerfully decorated farm stand that has been operating at that location since 1971.

Beth Dankert of Smith Pumpkin Farm talking to a reporter
from WTMJ-TV (Channel 4 in Milwaukee).
Smith Pumpkin Farm director of fun Beth Dankert shepherded the gathering past the farm’s numerous attractions, which now include several pedestal-mounted tracking arrays in addition to the 27 panels on the store’s roof.

"We went from considering a small solar tracker out by our pond to really becoming a business that can operate 110% of our electrical needs off solar," Dankert told a WTMJ-TV reporter.

Walter Kreuser of Kenosha-based Kreuser Electric designed and installed the entire 18 kilowatt system, which will be energized before the end of August. A NABCEP-certified installer, Kreuser has also built solar electric systems for University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Gateway Technical College.

Kenosha-based solar installer Walter Kreuser adding the
final panel to the country store's rooftop array.
Support from Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s energy efficiency and renewable energy program, took the form of a rebate totaling $2,400 and a zero-percent loan that covers 50% of the total installation cost. People’s Bank in Silver Lake provided the other half of the financing package for Smith Pumpkin Farm’s solar system.

As we at RENEW approach the end of our Summer of Solar - 2016, one thing stands out: each day more and more people are making the connection between clean energy and healthy food, and Wisconsin’s agricultural producers are stepping up to give their customers what they want.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Three Wisconsin Firms Have Their Day in the Sun

RENEW Honors Businesses Investing in Solar Energy

In the span of one week, RENEW presented “Solar Champion” awards to three companies—JONCO Industries, Central Storage & Warehouse and O&H Danish Bakery--that now host some of the largest rooftop solar electric systems in the state of Wisconsin. The award presentations took place during individual ribbon-cutting ceremonies at each company, two of which were organized and emceed by RENEW’s incoming president Amy Heart. The three PV systems honored by RENEW have a combined rated capacity of about 1.26 MW(DC) .
Speaking at JONCO's ribbon cutting is Rep. David Bowen,
joined by Tom Ryan & his son, Leah Maggio of Focus on Energy,
Mayor Tom Barrett, and John Daugherty of SunVest.

Located in Milwaukee’s North Side, JONCO Industries hosts a new 370-kilowatt array on a 200,000-square-foot building it acquired in 2014 to expand its contract manufacturing capabilities. A number of local dignitaries, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, gathered on July 13 to praise JONCO’s achievement in integrating clean energy into his company’s operations. Said JONCO president Tom Ryan: "If we want to invest the money and time to build the rooftop solar. I'm not looking for today, but I've calculated it out — it's going to take me four years to pay for that roof."

On behalf of RENEW and Pewaukee-based SunVest, which designed and installed the array, RENEW Executive Director Tyler Huebner presented a certificate recognizing JONCO Industries as “the largest solar electricity producer among Wisconsin manufacturing companies."

The SunPeak team standing with CS&W owners
Jack & Ken Williams (extreme right).
Read more on JONCO’s solar installation in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
Later that day, Central Storage & Warehouse (CS&W), a Madison-based, family-owned  company that owns several refrigerated warehouses in Wisconsin, hosted an event celebrating its 2,904-panel solar system. The 741-kilowatt system designed and installed by Madison-based SunPeak is sized to produce 20% of the electricity consumed at the adjoining warehouse, which was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1991 that melted food in storage worth millions of dollars.

At the celebration Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and RENEW Program and Policy Director Michael Vickerman congratulated CS&W for embracing environmental performance and clean energy as it rebuilt its physical plant in the ensuing 25 years. This rebuilding culminated with the installation of the largest rooftop solar electric system in the state.  SunPeak  and RENEW presented a certificate to CS&W Vice President Jack Williams honoring the company’s leadership in advancing solar energy for Wisconsin businesses. Both Williams and Vickerman also praised the Focus on Energy program for providing critical funding support for this precedent-setting installation.

For more information about CS&W’s solar installation, visit SunPeak's website. 
O&H co-owner Eric Olesen cutting the ribbon while Rep.
Cory Mason, Michael Vickerman, and Amy Heart look on.

RENEW and SunVest teamed up again the following week to organize a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 152-kilowatt solar system atop O&H Danish Bakery’s new headquarters building in Mount Pleasant, near Racine. O&H built the 44,000-square-foot facility in 2015 to house all of its baking operations under one roof. The solar panels atop O&H’s roof should produce 180,000 kilowatt-hours a year, supplying about 25% of the electricity used in that building. O&H’s Mount Pleasant facility will enable the renowned Kringle maker to add about 25 new positions over the next three years.

RENEW’s new president, Amy Heart, presided over the ceremony, which attracted such local dignitaries as Rep. Cory Mason and M.T. Boyle, who represented Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave.  Several years ago, Rep. Mason authored legislation designating the Kringle as Wisconsin’s official pastry. Wrapping up, RENEW’s Michael Vickerman presented a Solar Champion certificate to O&H co-owner Eric Olesen, recognizing the company’s status as the largest solar electricity producer in Racine County and the largest solar electricity producer among Wisconsin bakeries.

Read more about O&H’s solar installation in a piece from TMJ4.

All three solar electric systems will enable these signature Wisconsin businesses to manage their energy costs more effectively and strengthen their economic position in the highly competitive business environments they operate in.  Focus on Energy funding support was instrumental in persuading these economic mainstays to plow their own savings into solar. The Public Service Commission will soon decide whether to continue rebates for renewable energy in 2017 and 2018. We hope to enlist these and other renewable energy hosts to educate the PSC on the positive connection between their renewable energy investments and the health of their businesses.

Monday, July 11, 2016

PSC Decision Restarts Highland Wind Project

At an open meeting on July 7th, the PSC met to resolve the specific issues that led St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Edward Vlack to invalidate the Certification of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) granted to the 102.5 MW Highland Wind Farm in 2014 and remand the matter back to the agency. Specifically, the judge wanted a firmer foundation for the additional restrictions on sound levels that were established for six residences presumed to be occupied by sensitive individuals.

On a 2-0 vote, the PSC ruled that the body of literature examining potential health impacts from wind generators did not support the imposition of a special sound threshold for those six residences. In explaining her decision, Commission Chair Ellen Nowak said that the agency’s review of peer-reviewed studies did not find a causal connection between wind turbines and claims of adverse health impacts. In reaffirming its approval of Highland Wind, the agency removed a stipulation in the permit that specified reduced noise limits from nearby wind turbines for the six residences in question. Instead, the agency agreed to set a uniform sound limit for the entire project, and will rely upon a complaint process to address sound concerns.

Opponents of the project have said they are considering their legal options and plan to "continue to fight against Highland Wind in any way we can."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

RENEW Applauds Dairyland Power and EDP Renewables for Wind Energy Expansion

More information
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
608-575- 2201 (cell)

RENEW Applauds Dairyland Power and EDP Renewables for Wind Energy Expansion

Also in southwest Wisconsin, the Montfort Wind Farm

Madison, WI – June 8, 2016

Today, Dairyland Power Cooperative, based in La Crosse, announced they will purchase power from a new utility-scale wind energy project in Lafayette County in southwest Wisconsin.

The “Quilt Block” wind project will be developed by EDP Renewables, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, Texas. The project is approximately 98 megawatts, which when constructed will provide over 15% of Wisconsin’s wind power.

RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director, Tyler Huebner, said “We congratulate and applaud Dairyland Power Cooperative and EDP Renewables for this major clean energy venture that will bring a multitude of benefits to southwest Wisconsin and Dairyland Power members throughout the state. Dairyland is making the most of the opportunity at hand to lock in the benefits of low-cost clean energy for its member cooperatives.”

The project will deliver savings to ratepayers as well as stimulate the local economy. Quilt Block will yield an annual revenue stream of nearly $400,000 to Lafayette County and the Town of Seymour, while creating hundreds of family-supporting jobs during construction. All across the Midwest, rural local governments have relied on utility-scale wind generation to minimize property tax increases.

Huebner said, “We also salute EDP Renewables for designing a wind power project that is strongly supported by the local community, and for staying with it for more than a dozen years.”

Concluded Huebner, “Between WPPI Energy’s recent windpower request-for- proposals announcement earlier this week, Dairyland’s multimegawatt solar energy initiative, and its new wind power project, renewable energy is now clearly cost-competitive in Wisconsin.”

Dairyland's press release can be found at

This story was covered in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the La Crosse Tribune.

Monday, June 6, 2016

RENEW Recognizes School District’s Solar Achievement

The Darlington Community School District kicked off the month of June with a ribbon-cutting
ceremony in honor of its solar electric system installed late last year and energized this winter.The 156 kilowatt array atop the elementary-middle school is, according to RENEW’s project data base, the largest photovoltaic array serving a public school system in the state.

A southwest Wisconsin community with a population of nearly 2,500, Darlington is the seat of government in Lafayette County. There are about 800 students enrolled in the school district.

Under blazing sunshine and a cobalt blue sky, RENEW’s Michael Vickerman presented a plaque to Darlington School Board president Aaron Wolfe honoring the district’s achievement in becoming “the largest solar electricity producer of any K-12 school district in Wisconsin.”

Vickerman said: “We are delighted to present this award to you not only to recognize your great achievement with this solar installation, but also to inspire other school districts in Wisconsin to equal or surpass what you’ve accomplished here in Darlington.”

Consisting of 510 panels expected to generate 200,000 kilowatt-hours/year, Darlington’s array is sized to supply 25% of the electricity consumed at both the high school and the neighboring elementary school. The school district expects to save about $11,500 annually in electricity costs.

Working closely with Madison solar consultant Niels Wolter, the school district obtained a $63,000 renewable energy incentive from Focus on Energy and a $61,000 grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program. Midwest-based solar investors also provided funding for the installation.

The district also received Hoffman’s 2016 TPM ™ sustainability award from Mark Hanson, Director of Sustainable Services, with Appleton-based Hoffman Planning, Design and Construction, Inc., which provided solar planning services.

After the ribbon was cut, Lee Black, the district’s buildings and grounds manager, shepherded a group up to the roof to view the installation and answer questions.

For more information on the Darlington Solar Education Project, visit their website here.

Real-time monitoring information from the Darlington array can be accessed here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Groundbreaking ceremony kicks off Dairyland’s solar initiative

Representatives from Dairyland Power Cooperative, Richland Electric Cooperative, SoCore Energy and others gathered May 23rd on a sun-baked Richland County crop field to celebrate a breakthrough moment for utility-scale solar energy in Wisconsin. The symbol for this breakthrough is a 600 kilowatt (AC) solar array that will, when completed, supply 500 kW of electricity to Dairyland Power and 100 kW directly to Richland Electric under a 25 year contract.

The third participant in the groundbreaking ceremony, Chicago-based SoCore Energy, will build and own the Richland solar station as well as 10 others across western Wisconsin. La Crosse-based Dairyland Power and its host cooperatives will purchase the entire output from SoCore’s 11 arrays, which will total more than 14 megawatts.

Highlighting the course change that Dairyland and its member cooperatives are committed to, every Richland Electric employee present at the ceremony wore green shirts emblazoned with “Transition Energy.” This fact sheet contains more details on Richland’s Transition Energy initiative.

Presiding over the ceremony were Barb Nick, Dairyland Power’s CEO, and Shannon Clark, Richland Electric’s general manager. Both speakers praised solar power’s emergence as a clean, cost-effective, and locally available source of energy that complements the western Wisconsin landscape. Consisting of nearly 2,400 panels, SoCore’s array will occupy about one-half of an eight-acre parcel next to a Dairyland substation alongside State Highway 56.

[RENEW note: Barb Nick will be the keynote speaker at RENEW’s Energy Policy Summit set for January 2017.]

At the groundbreaking, Richland’s Clark unveiled details of the shared solar component to the project, which it calls the Ash Ridge Community Solar Project. Nearly 400 310-watt panels will be dedicated to Richland’s shared solar service, which is available to all of the cooperative’s 3,500 owner-members. The one-time subscription fee per panel is $699. The per-kilowatt- hour credit to subscribers will equal the cooperative’s retail energy rate.

Also participating in the groundbreaking were State Senator Jennifer Shilling, and State Assembly members Ed Brooks and Lee Nerison. WXOW-TV, Channel 19 in La Crosse, broadcast a segment on the groundbreaking that evening and aired a lengthier segment on solar energy’s breakthrough moment the following morning.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Michael Vickerman: Considering investing in solar program

A letter to customers in Xcel Wisconsin's territory from RENEW's Michael Vickerman appeared in the La Crosse Tribune on April 26, 2016: 
Eau Claire Energy Cooperative's
872 kW Community Solar Array
With declining costs, solar electricity has become an increasingly affordable option for property owners wishing to power their homes with clean energy.
But what options are available for solar energy enthusiasts who have shading problems or roofs that need replacement within the next five years? And is there any path available for renters who want solar but don’t own the roof over their heads?
There is an option for La Crosse-area customers of Xcel Energy—every customer now can “plug in” to a community solar garden and reap the benefit of that clean energy directly on their electric bills.
With the recent rollout of Xcel’s Solar*Connect Community program, residential and business customers are stepping up to purchase a share in the output through up-front subscriptions that will likely be paid back in full after 20 years. Hopefully, their early action will inspire others in La Crosse and surrounding communities to join in and reap the solar harvest.
Grouping thousands of solar panels into one large array lowers the unit cost of the project to participants. Through this structure, every participating utility customer will share equitably in this clean power installation at a low cost.
Another segment of the community that benefits from shared solar is the nonprofit sector, which can solicit tax-deductible contributions from its members or donors to become solar buyers. Indeed, community solar is a great way for a benefactor to bestow a clean energy legacy for a particular school, nature center or house of worship.
Solar projects like these do not drop out of the sky and magically land in your community. These arrays are going up in western Wisconsin because the people there and utilities such as Xcel believe that their communities are ready to launch the transition to clean energy, and they worked hard to make these projects happen. They also believe that solar is a cost-effective energy option today when customers are given the opportunity to step up and support it.
La Crosse-area residents and businesses are fortunate to have this opportunity to take their energy future into their own hands. To Xcel customers living in the area, we at RENEW encourage you to make the most of this opportunity and enroll in your local solar program. There is no clearer way to show the world where you and your community stand on clean energy.