Local companies reduce carbon footprint through federal grants

Old Oak Family Farm and Kickapoo Coffee Roasters install solar panels to create energy

President Barack Obama’s recent push for the nation to start limiting its carbon footprint is already resonating with some local companies.

Earlier this week, Obama announced his plan to reduce the amount of greenhouse emissions from the nation’s coal-burning power plants.

One of those ways is by using solar panels to generate energy. It does come at a cost but two local companies have found a way to make it work with the help of federal grants.

The Old Oak Family Farm in Bangor has been in Kyle Zenz family for over a century.

“Since 1906, so I am a fourth-generation farmer,” said Zenz.

Tradition runs deep on the family farm but on Tuesday the family takes a step in a new direction.

“We are getting our solar panels installed on our new barn,” said Zenz.

The 80 panels being installed will offset about 80 percent of the energy used on the farm.

“Some of the big things that use energy are our walk-in freezer and walk-in cooler,” said Zenz.

The Environmental Protection Agency calculated the impact of the farm’s solar panels over a lifetime.

These solar panels will stop 59,342 gallons of gasoline from being used and prevent 226 tons of coal from being burned. However, it does come at a cost

“There is an initial cost but those come back pretty quickly, and we were able to apply for two grants,” said Zenz.

One of those grants is the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program grant, also known as REAP.

“Those two grants are going to cover half of our projects costs so that made it doable,” said Zenz.

The USDA’s grant also made solar energy possible for Kickapoo Coffee Roasters in Viroqua.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a company that was completely energy independent,” said Caleb Nicholes, co-owner of Kickapoo Coffee Roasters.

The total cost of the 80 solar panels Nicholes installed was $75,000 dollars but with the addition of two grants and a federal tax credit he paid less than $30,000.

“It’s a very costly and expensive to do it as a business owner, so as our company has grown the realities of making that happen financially became viable,” said Nicholes.

Although it costs money upfront, Nicholes said it’s going to pay off in the end.

“I firmly believe that our customers are going to get excited about the fact we have made this leap, converting 100 percent of our electrical needs to solar,” said Nicholes.

Based on current electrical prices, it will take about six to seven years for the Old Oak Family Farm to start making money off of their new solar panels. For Kickapoo Coffee Roasters, it will take between eight and 10 years to start receiving pay back.

A total of 14 companies in Wisconsin took advantage of the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program grant to install solar panels for energy.