Release Date: October 30, 2010

Dual solar power will produce savings at Outagamie County Airport

The Post-Crescent

GREENVILLE -- The Outagamie County Regional Airport terminal has long basked in the sun.

By this time next month, old Sol will shed its rays on two separate sets of rooftop solar panels to heat water and generate electricity.

The $903,000 project has already gotten funding commitments from the Department of Energy and state Board of Aeronautics, with grants from the pair totaling about $778,000. The county will pick up the balance of the cost assuming that Milwaukee-based utility We Energies or Focus on Energy of Madison doesn't match the gap.

Both systems combined may save the county $6,000 annually.

"We anticipate the return to be under 10 years," said Airport Director Marty Lenss.

Lenss said by itself, the $6,000 in savings isn't a huge sum. But anything a consuming entity can to do to counter upwardly spiraling utilities costs helps. And it builds benefits.

"Your dividends start to pay a little more higher return over time as utility rates go up," he said. The savings equate to about two or three cents per square foot on tenant rental rates.

The airport can gain in another way. By generating electricity it won't need for its own consumption, a clause with We Energies allows the airport to sell the excess power onto the utility grid on a dollar-for-dollar credit basis.

On the flip side, cloudy days reduce -- but do not eliminate -- the output of electric power or hot water. Backup electrical supplies will kick in as needed.

Twelve large panels are positioned to capture the sun's rays to heat a circulating antifreeze solution, which then runs through a coil to heat fresh water. The hot water will be available for all domestic and commercial uses at the terminal, including restrooms and restaurant.

The second set of panels -- all 211 of them -- is positioned on the concourse roof, which was extended about a decade ago.

By coincidence, the roof lies at an 18-degree angle to the south, a nearly ideal pitch for the photovoltaic panels that convert sunshine into electricity. On sunny days, they'll produce enough electricity to power seven or eight homes, Lenss said.

"In many respects this is a leading edge project," said Matt Dubbe, Minneapolis-based project manager with Mead & Hunt, a consulting engineer and airport planning specialist with a strong Fox Valley and Wisconsin presence.

Much of the contract labor and equipment came from Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Two Fox Cities firms, the Boldt Co. of Appleton and L&C Insulation, which has a Little Chute location, are among the five firms that worked on the installation. River Falls based Able Energy Co. played one of the lead roles.

Solar Skies Manufacturing, Starbuck, Minn., made the large thermal panels for water heating. The firm's panels also grace the roof of the Wisconsin governor's mansion near Madison and the Kalahari Resorts complex in Wisconsin Dells.

Dubbe said most of the components for the photovoltaic panels were made in the United States, but were assembled into complete units at Renewable Energy Corp. in Norway.