Solon Springs solar array sheds light on renewable energy

Solon Springs School project, delayed by a year, is expected to be online by the end of June.

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A crew from Carlson Electric in Hayward installs solar panels on the upper roof of the Solon Springs School Friday, May 29. The 109 kWh array is expected to provide about 44 percent of the school's energy needs. (Maria Lockwood /

A crew from Carlson Electric installed solar panels on the upper roof of Solon Springs School Friday, May 29, part of a $250,000 project that could supply nearly half of the district’s electricity.

A total of 300 panels are being installed — 154 on the upper roof and the rest on the lower section. Brackets for the project were set in place three weeks ago, said Maintenance Director Mark Dahlberg.

The district in 2018 received a $124,500 grant from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for the solar project. District Administrator Frank Helquist said the school recently netted a second grant for $20,000 and a $13,950 incentive grant from Focus on Energy for the cost of the system. The district will have to pay about $90,000 out of pocket for the project, according to preliminary estimates.

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Carlson Electric Foreman Calvin Silberbauer, left, and electrician John Barros place ballast blocks on brackets to hold a solar panel array in place on the roof of Solon Springs School Friday, May 29. (Maria Lockwood /


The project was delayed by a year due to the limited number of manufacturers who supply the proper equipment, Helquist said. According to Dahlberg and Carlson Electric supervisor Dustin Snedeker, the parts in question were the inverters, which convert the DC power collected in the panels into AC electricity at the roofline. Instead, the array will use microinverters.

The 109 kilowatt-hour system is expected to generate 44% of the school's electricity, saving the district about $12,600 annually. It will also shine a light on renewable energy for students. Two panels will be wired to a light at the front of the school, with an educational kiosk that tracks the array’s energy output.

“I am excited that we have been able to partner with so many individuals, organizations and companies to have most of this project funded by different grants and solar investment programs,” Helquist said. “This solar project will serve as a model for other schools to consider and with the energy use kiosk that will be located on-site, students will experience firsthand knowledge of the use of solar and its savings to the environment and budget.”

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Clouds and blue sky are reflected on the glass faces of 154 solar panels on the upper roof of Solon Springs School Friday, May 29. A 300-panel array is being installed on the school. (Maria Lockwood /

Snedeker said the panels themselves are sturdy and can handle a snow load of up to 65 pounds per square foot. They have a shelf life of roughly 25 years, he said, and hit peak output during sunny winter days when there is no heat resistance for the panels to contend with.

This is the third large community solar project Hayward-based Carlson Electric has installed this year, said crew foreman Calvin Silberbauer.

“We do a lot of residential systems also,” he said.


Past projects have included Sawyer County housing units and Huntsinger Farms in Eau Claire, the world’s largest horseradish producer.

Once the panels are installed, the wiring will begin. The Solon Springs School array is expected to be online by the end of June.

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Foreman Calvin Silberbauer, center, places a ballast block on the bracket footing of a solar panel to hold it in place as fellow crew members from Carlson Electric look on Friday, May 29 on the roof of the Solon Springs School. (Maria Lockwood /

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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