Powered by the sun

Caleb Nicholes and TJ Semanchin, owners of Kickapoo Coffee, stand among the 80 panels that make up a 25kW solar array that powers their business in Viroqua's Food Enterprise Center.

Kickapoo Coffee Roasters, an award-winning coffee business in Viroqua, is now powered by a 25kW solar array consisting of 80 panels. The company, which began in 2005, has won many awards for the quality and sustainability of their coffee. In 2013, they moved to the Food Enterprise Center, a facility owned by Vernon Economic Development Association (VEDA), at 1201 N. Main St.

Kickapoo Coffee has always been committed to sustainability on many levels. They support fair trade coffee cooperatives and are member-owners of the importing company, Cooperative Coffees. The addition of on-site renewable energy enhances the core of their mission and commitment to a better world. TJ Semanchin and Caleb Nicholes, owners of Kickapoo Coffee, believe that on-site solar makes good sustainable business sense, economically and socially.

Ethos Renewable Power, also located in Viroqua, developed the project for Kickapoo Coffee, and won a state Focus on Energy grant for 21 percent of the cost of the project. Sue Noble, executive director of VEDA, was successful in winning a USDA REAP grant for 25 percent of the cost. As the business owners of the solar array, Kickapoo Coffee will also take advantage of the 30 percent federal tax credit available for renewable systems. Finally, local investors will finance the remainder of the project cost.

At their current usage, the solar panels will produce more than 90 percent of the electricity they use. For the first seven years, Kickapoo Coffee will make a payment to investors that will be offset by the savings they see on their electric bill. After that, the system will be fully paid for and Kickapoo Coffee will get free electricity from the solar panels.

In just one year, the 80-panel solar array is equal to 17.5 acres of trees planted, according the EPA greenhouse gas equivalency calculator. Greenhouse gases drive climate change creating drought and floods and extreme weather. Because rural communities are directly dependent on weather for their livelihood, renewable energy benefits farmers everywhere, both here in Wisconsin and the farmer cooperatives where Kickapoo Coffee purchases their coffee.

Ethos Renewable Power develops markets for renewable energy in the Midwest and installs solar PV arrays for homes, farms and businesses in the Driftless Region. The office is at 729 N. Main St in Viroqua.

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Angie Cina is editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster. Contact her at 608-637-5616.

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