UW-Health Unveils Wisconsin’s Largest Solar PV Parking Canopy

UW-Health Unveils Wisconsin’s Largest Solar PV Parking Canopy

Rarely does one experience a solar-themed celebration inside a large parking garage at an active construction site, but that didn’t stop UW-Health from throwing the symbolic switch to activate a recently installed 1.1 MW solar electric parking deck at UW-Health’s Eastpark Medical Center campus. The Eastpark Medical Center is scheduled to open in fall 2024.

Under a cloudless sky, luminaries such as Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and State Senator Melissa Agard joined project partners and invited guests to hear UW-Health CEO Dr. Alan Kaplan, UW-Health senior vice president Katrina Lambrecht, and RENEW’s Michael Vickerman hail the many benefits provided by the gleaming structure above their heads. Images of the parking canopy can be accessed through the WKOW-TV news story filed later that day.

The Eastpark photovoltaic (PV) canopy, consisting of 2,064 panels, should produce enough electricity to power the proton therapy center planned for that location. The array is expected to produce approximately 1,260,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, equating to the annual consumption of about 200 typical Dane County households.

The deck also serves as a cover that prevents rain, snow, and ice from penetrating the space inside, preventing potentially hazardous footing for patients and staff alike. Underneath the panels, a network of pipes will channel rain and melting snow from the array and transport the water into Madison’s storm sewer system.

In his remarks, Vickerman called attention to the array’s design. “You can site a lot of solar power on rooftops and other impervious surfaces if you plan for it from the get-go,” Vickerman said. “This particular application of solar energy doubles as an urban design feature whose footprint can fit entirely within a larger structure.”

At its February 2024 annual summit, RENEW presented a Clean Energy Honor Roll award to UW-Health and its project partners–SunPeak and Staff Electric–for envisioning, designing, and constructing the largest solar-powered parking deck in Wisconsin. The Eastpark PV canopy was one of 13 installations or initiatives to receive such honors this year.

Ag and Business Solar Partners: Forward Thinking on the Farm

Ag and Business Solar Partners: Forward Thinking on the Farm

Photo Credit: Brett Carlson – Owner and Founder of Ag & Business Solar Partners

In 2020, Brett Carlson and his dad, Carl, decided to install solar panels on the farm using the financial support offered through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The complexities of this process inspired the creation of his company, Solar and Ag Business, whose goal is to help farmers and small businesses reap the benefits of solar energy.

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is a federal program that provides financial assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to make the switch to renewable energy. The REAP Grant was established in 2002, and up until 2023, the grant covered 25% of the total project costs. The grant was expanded to cover 40% of the total project cost in early 2023 and then increased to 50% of total project costs thanks to additional funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). When you factor in tax credits and depreciation, Wisconsin farmers and small businesses can install solar at a fraction of the cost. 

Solar energy can reduce energy bills, benefitting the bottom lines for farms and rural small businesses that are often looking for additional efficiencies to help keep their businesses viable.

“Of the many volatile expenses that come with farming, this is one that we can control. The initial overhead cost of installing solar was a barrier that most farmers weren’t able to overcome until now,” Brett said. 

The benefits of the REAP Grant to rural America are significant, but the lack of education about solar in rural areas and the complexities of the REAP grant application itself presents a challenge. Brett experienced this firsthand when he helped his parents apply for the REAP grant. Brett explained that he and his parents left that experience feeling frustrated as they were pushed to outsource help for the REAP application to “predatory consultants and grant writers,” who knew that most farmers could not navigate grant jargon on their own.

AG and Solar Partners grew from that frustration, and now Brett helps navigate federal incentives and tax benefits and connect farmers and small business owners to trustworthy clean energy businesses. One of Brett’s clients, Dan Tronrud, is an auto shop owner in Wolf River. Dan praises Brett’s passion for making solar energy accessible to his community.

When asked about his experience with applying for the REAP Grant, Dan exclaimed, “He’s excited, and he gets me excited. He knows everything about solar and electricity and is so good at breaking it down. There are no questions left unanswered.”

With the help of Ag and Business Solar, Dan was able to submit his application for the December 2023 grant cycle and hopes to bring solar panels to his shop.

Brett’s background of growing up on his family farm and then going on to study business and entrepreneurship offers him a unique skill set that empowers him to navigate complex conversations with business partners, consultants, and farmers around the intricacies of implementing solar energy on a commercial scale while taking advantage of federal incentive tax benefits.

“As a business owner, the transition to solar makes total sense,” Brett said. “Politics aside, look at the numbers, they work. The math makes sense. It’s a no-brainer with the REAP grant and tax incentives.”

The benefits of transitioning to solar energy as a business decision are clear, immediate, and accessible with the help of the REAP Grant and IRA incentives.

“Each generation did something innovative—something that no one else was doing,” Brett said. “My dad was way ahead of his time, he put up wind turbines, the first one in our town.”

He and his parents see solar as a partial solution to the deteriorating electricity grids in rural areas.

“It’s aging, expensive to maintain, and it’s not fair that there are no other options provided by utility companies,” Brett said. “Transitioning to solar is a way for us to have agency to protect ourselves from outdated grids. I want people to recognize how this technology benefits us. I grew up in this community, and I will spend the rest of my life here. I don’t want to keep watching my loved ones and the people that I grew up with struggle to stay in business if there is something that can be done to help. That’s why I’m doing this. I want this community to not only stick around but to thrive.”

Because of the success of past clean energy projects with the REAP grant, it will be continuously funded through the IRA with $2 billion spread throughout a ten-year span. Farmers and small business owners interested in applying for the REAP grant should send their application materials to their local Rural Development State Energy Coordinator or contact Brett. Deadlines for the 2024 grant cycles are March 31, June 30, and September 30. Funding guidelines are state and project-specific, which is where Brett’s expertise at AG and Business Partners can be useful. Brett offers free consultations for small businesses, residential properties, and farms throughout rural Wisconsin.

$75,000 in Solar Grants Available for Madison Businesses and Nonprofits: Application Period Closing Soon

$75,000 in Solar Grants Available for Madison Businesses and Nonprofits: Application Period Closing Soon

 Madison-based businesses and nonprofits have a unique opportunity to embrace the power of clean energy while easing financial burdens through MadiSUN’s Solar for Business and Backyard Solar Grant programs. The deadline to apply for the Backyard Solar Grant is October 1, 2023. Businesses have until December 31, 2023.

MadiSUN’s Solar for Business and Backyard Solar Grant programs, administered by RENEW Wisconsin, align with the City of Madison’s commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050. Collectively, the programs have $75,000 in grants available for Madison-based businesses and nonprofits to utilize. Businesses can receive up to $10,000. Nonprofit organizations and affordable housing providers can receive up to $20,000.

“Solar power isn’t just about reducing our carbon footprint; it’s a smart economic choice,” said Lauren Cohen, Program Coordinator of the MadiSUN programs. “With our Solar for Business and Backyard Solar Grant programs, we’re not only helping Madison’s businesses and nonprofits adopt clean energy but also reducing their financial loads.”

Adopting solar has become a strategic move for businesses and nonprofits alike as the cost of solar drops. Transitioning to solar becomes even more affordable when organizations pair the Inflation Reduction Act’s 30% Solar Investment Tax Credit and the grants through MadiSUN.

“The MadiSUN Backyard Solar grant helped make our solar array much more affordable,” said Gabrielle Hinahara, Board Member at the Madison Area Cooperative Housing Alliance and Backyard Solar Grant Recipient. “Our solar array is set to provide 97% of the electricity needs for our 11-person house, which contributes to long-term affordability for our residents.”

As the deadline approaches, organizations are encouraged to seize this opportunity to go solar, reduce upfront costs, and contribute to a more sustainable future. Interested applicants should reach out to MadiSUN@renewwisconsin.org.

17 More Wisconsin Nonprofits to be Powered by Renewable Energy through RENEW Wisconsin Solar for Good Program

17 More Wisconsin Nonprofits to be Powered by Renewable Energy through RENEW Wisconsin Solar for Good Program

RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good program has awarded over $190,000 in cash grants and materials to Wisconsin nonprofits for installing on-site solar energy systems. Seventeen organizations will install 719 kilowatts of clean, renewable electricity leading to nearly $1.4 million in renewable energy investments in Wisconsin.

The following organizations have been offered Fall 2020 Solar for Good grants to install new solar electric systems: 

All Saints Lutheran Church, house of worship, Fitchburg.

Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, after-school youth programming, Madison.

Community Clothes Closet, free clothing provider, Menasha. 

Couleecap Inc, poverty alleviation, Westby.

Ezekiel Lutheran Church, house of worship, River Falls.

Friends of Sauk County Fairgrounds, historic preservation, Baraboo.

Grace Evangelical Free Church, house of worship, Viroqua.

Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, affordable housing provider, Madison.

Habitat for Humanity Restore, affordable housing support, Beaver Dam.

Just One More Ministry, food pantry, Glendale.

Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity Restore, affordable housing support, Greenfield.

Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, house of worship, Madison.

The BRICK Ministries, poverty alleviation and food pantry, Ashland.

Walnut Way Conservation Corps, community conservation organization, Milwaukee.

Yerkes Future Foundation, education and historic preservation, Williams Bay.

Two organizations have asked to remain anonymous at this time. 

This round of Solar for Good grants features a diverse group of organizations from across Wisconsin. The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County will install over 250 panels at their Madison-based facility and plan to demonstrate the benefits of solar energy to the young people they serve. An 11-kilowatt array will be installed at the BRICK Ministries in Ashland with the help of donated solar panels from One Energy Renewables, a large-scale solar developer. And a 60-kilowatt array is planned at the famous Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, home of the world’s largest refracting telescope used for astronomical research.

“The grant and the installation of solar panels underscores the ongoing value of Yerkes Observatory as a place for scientific discovery and education,” stated Dianna Colman of Yerkes Future Foundation. “Students and visitors will experience firsthand the impact of solar power…even on a building dating back to 1897.”

In addition to the Couillard Solar Foundation, Solar for Good’s founding funder, this cycle of grants also received backing from the Array it Forward initiative at First Unitarian Society in Madison. The First Unitarian Society won a Solar for Good grant in 2018 and wanted to share the benefits they received from their solar array with other nonprofits across Wisconsin. Array it Forward is made possible through donations solicited from their congregation and the community.

Solar for Good shares our values and priorities for stabilizing our climate and speeding our transition to renewable energy,” said Carol Phelps, a contributing donor to Array it Forward. “This will make life better for the children of the world…when people unite to tackle climate change, there is great hope for the future.”

The 17 nonprofit organizations are a part of Solar for Good’s 7th round of funding. Since its inception in 2017, Solar for Good has offered solar grants to 96 Wisconsin-based nonprofits. 

When each of the solar projects are energized, these nonprofits will have added over 4 megawatts of clean, renewable energy to Wisconsin’s electric mix, enough to power approximately 900 homes. Solar for Good projects will represent a total of $9.2 million of private investments in Wisconsin renewable energy over the past three years.


About Solar for Good RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good initiative fosters the expansion of solar power among mission-based nonprofits and houses of worship in Wisconsin. Through a generous partnership with Couillard Solar Foundation and Array it Forward, RENEW Wisconsin awards grants and solar panels to nonprofit organizations, helping them switch to clean, renewable, solar energy. 

About RENEW Wisconsin RENEW Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization which promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin. We work on policies and programs that support solar power, wind power, biogas, local hydropower, geothermal energy, and electric vehicles. More information on RENEW’s website: www.renewwisconsin.org.

Solar. Community. Future.

Solar. Community. Future.

On the first day of August, a delegation from RENEW journeyed to the heart of the Driftless Area to take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Organic Valley Cooperative. What drew the participants to this location was a newly constructed 2.5 MW solar array perched on a hill overlooking Organic Valley’s distribution center along State Highway 27.

Behind the array stands two large wind turbines that are owned by Organic Valley and Gundersen Health System. Between the wind turbines, the solar array, and a number of other solar systems on the cooperative’s properties, Organic Valley now offsets 100% of its electric energy use with locally sourced renewable energy.

The array in Cashton is also a symbol of a project design that brought to fruition nine other solar arrays in the Upper Midwest serving rural communities. The post below, first published on Rootstock, Organic Valley’s blog, recounts how Organic Valley’s clean energy ambitions served as the catalyst for what is now one of the most creative renewable energy projects now operating in the United States.

How do you improve rural America?
By working together.

Out in the sunlight in 2016, two friends and former coworkers discussed what might be possible if their new employers came together to bring more solar to the Midwest. Could a major food brand become totally renewably powered? It was a dreamer’s conversation. A starshot. Luckily, they also found a way to be doers.

One of the dreamers worked for the cooperative behind Organic Valley, the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the country. You probably know Organic Valley from the milk, butter, and eggs in your fridge.

It’s kind of a crazy business.

So these dreamers met over lunch and ended up talking about a crazy goal: to make Organic Valley the world’s first 100% renewable-powered food company in just two years.

If you ask Stanley Minnick, Organic Valley’s energy services and technology manager, even he will tell you he didn’t quite know how to make it happen.

“I didn’t know exactly how it would all work out,” Minnick said, “but I knew if we just kept moving forward — and especially if we had the right partners — we could scale beyond our current wind, solar and geothermal and get to 100% renewable-powered.”

How would they get it done in “flyover country”? How would they focus on this project in a rural America that so many said was crumbling? How could they reach such an audacious goal in so little time?

The answer? Community.

As the goal evolved into a project, more partners — locally and beyond — stepped up to make the dream of a community solar partnership a reality.

Two creative and bold energy companies, OneEnergy Renewables and a group of Midwestern municipal utilities referred to as the Upper Midwest Municipal Energy Group (UMMEG), worked night and day to figure out how to structure the project. They, along with the City of Madison, Dr. Bronner’s and Clif Bar, brought their own intrepid goals to the table. Advocates and scientists at Fresh Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund were engaged to find even more opportunities to create environmental benefits.

What started as a dream to become a 100% renewably powered food business became a community project that would benefit more than 23,000 rural Midwestern households within the scope of the overarching project. Suddenly, the project went beyond Organic Valley’s offices, warehouse and plants. It meant decades of cheaper energy from renewable sources for tens of thousands of rural Americans.

As the plans expanded, so did the logistics. Between the ten arrays in the full project, the team expected to increase the solar energy produced in Wisconsin by 30%. It was a big goal, and with solar tariffs and the elimination of government tax credits on the horizon, there were no options but to either run full steam at the goal or to stop the projects in their tracks.

They forged ahead. The dreamers turned into full-time doers, along with help from an entire team at Organic Valley, BluEarth Renewables, and even the state’s capitol city of Madison, Wisconsin.

The partners worked hard to figure out the finances, including the power purchase agreements and renewable energy credits, while the communities weathered real and financial storms at the same time. Two back-to-back 500-year floods inundated the communities where these panels would be installed. The rural areas were already seeing the effects of climate change.

In January 2019, some of the hardiest and hard-working people on Earth forged ahead into a brutal winter. They installed hundreds of steel posts and panel supports in frozen ground.  Temperatures hit negative 30 degrees two nights in a row, and daytime temps barely got over zero degrees for weeks. Months later, the same crews battled muddy conditions to install the panels, wiring and other equipment needed to bring everything to life.

This community solar project, as a template for more projects around the country, was fighting for a brighter future as the rain fell on their hardhats. Still, the project was on track, if only a little delayed by an angry Mother Nature.

Rural America has an incredible resource many just don’t see: a sense of community that rivals anywhere else in the world.

When you drive through the small town of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), just 15 miles from the solar installation site, you’ll drive past a National Co-op Grocers’ food cooperative with solar panels on its roof, a restaurant that sources almost all of its food from local farms, and a farmers market that blows most bigger cities’ markets out of the water. And the community comes together in times of crisis, like when those 500-year floods ripped through a farmer’s backyard.


As the solar project needed help from partners in the other local communities and from the wider industry, people from different backgrounds stepped up. They started projects of their own, supported by a group of businesses intent on doing good in the world. And it’s working.

On August 1st, 2019, all the solar panels were finally in place and ready to make renewable energy for thousands. You can see the view for itself, nestled beneath the wind turbines in Cashton, Wisconsin, created from yet another powerful local partnership.

Organic Valley is now the biggest food brand to source all of the electricity for its owned facilities from 100% renewable energy. And it happened through partnership and cooperation.

Another Organic Valley employee has dreamed up a new innovative partnership that we can’t wait to share, but we kind of have to. This next big project will require even more collaboration and cooperation, but the end goal will be worth it: food made better. If you join the Organic Valley email list, you’ll be the first to hear about our big goals and new projects.

Rural America has a bright future, and it’s powered by dreamers and doers who work together toward big, crazy goals.

This article was written by Joshua Fairfield and first published on Rootstock, Organic Valley’s blog. You can view the original post HERE.