Saturday, September 22, 2018

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Soaking up the sun: Eau Claire small business adds 84 solar panels to roof with program’s help

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    From left, Sid Olinger, Dustin Robey, Dani Durand and Matt Steiner, all of Steiner Plumbing Electric and Heating in River Falls, install solar panels on Wednesday atop All Season Tire Pros, 1102 Menomonie St. View more photos at

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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    Dan Reiland

Eighty-four solar panels installed last week on the roof of an Eau Claire small business will soon start adding electricity to Xcel Energy’s power grid. 

All Season Tire Pros, 1102 Menomonie St., added the rooftop solar array with the help of a grant from Focus on Energy, an organization with multiple programs to help Wisconsin homes and businesses cut their utility bills and produce renewable energy.

“We’ve always been trying to cut back on our bills,” said Pamela Ida, who co-owns the tire and auto service business with her husband, Gary.

The solar panels have a $75,000 cost, and a Focus on Energy grant is picking up $9,000 of that.

While the panels are expected to cut the shop’s utility bills by $3,700 annually, Pamela Ida said tax credits and depreciation associated with producing renewable energy are the big financial perks.

In about seven years the savings generated by the solar panels is expected to pay off the cost for installing them, Pamela Ida said.

On Monday, Xcel Energy is scheduled to visit the auto shop to connect the solar panels to the local electrical grid. Solar power generated by the panels won’t provide electricity directly to the business, but the utility company will credit All Season Tire Pros on their bills for that power.

Gary Ida said ecological practices the shop has in place are both intended to help the environment and the business’ bottom line.

Used oil from oil changes is burned in a special heater to keep the shop warm in colder months.

Worn tires taken off vehicles either get retreaded for reuse or shredded by a company that uses the old rubber as part of a fuel.

And Focus on Energy previously helped the tire and service shop switch to more efficient light bulbs.

“We’ve had them down here a couple of times,” Gary Ida said.

In one of Focus on Energy’s visits, a representative mentioned a competitive grant program that businesses can apply to that helps them pay for renewable energy projects.

The Idas applied to the Renewable Energy Competitive Incentive Program for three years. Though they were runners-up in the latest round of grants, they got what they’d sought after other projects bowed out.

Focus on Energy awarded $2.37 million in fall for 65 solar panel projects in Wisconsin through its Renewable Energy Competitive Incentive Program, according to the organization’s website.

But that doesn’t cover all who are interested in the program. There were 109 applicants for that round of funding, seeking a combined total of $5 million.

have added solar panels to Other businesses and institutions in Eau Clairetheir properties in recent years.

The largest solar panel array at a Chippewa Valley business was installed in November 2016 at Huebsch Services, 3605 White Ave. The uniform, floor mat and facility services company had a 100-kilowatt system with 377 solar panels installed, which is estimated to offset about 30 percent of that building’s power needs.

Solar tubes on the roof of public housing apartment building Park Towers, 901 S. Farwell St., are used to create hot water for residents.

Solar panels also are in use at Beaver Creek Reserve, UW-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College. Both Xcel Energy and Eau Claire Energy Cooperative have built large solar farms in the past few years in Eau Claire County.

Last week’s solar panel installation wasn’t the Idas’ first foray into using solar power. The couple buy electricity for their rural Eau Claire County home from solar panels at Eau Claire Energy Cooperative’s solar farm.

They’re also trying to help out two butterfly species — Karner blue and Monarch — that have seen their numbers decline. The Idas took farmland out of production near their house so it could become a habitat for the butterflies and the plants that attract them.

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