How one small business gets ahead with solar
Investment into solar reduces average $9,000 monthly utility bills to $13.48
Solar power has been a boon for Jenny Steffensmeier’s business and her employees. Last year Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing completed a 430 kW solar array which saves the company $8000 to $9000 per month. “Our first bill after getting off the demand charge was $13.48,” Jenny said.
Those savings have allowed Jenny, president and owner, to invest in her employees, hire new workers, expand production, and give back to the community. “All of these things potentially could not have happened because the cash flow was not there before,” she said.
JOURNEY TO SOLAR
Jenny assembled a leadership team to study the pros and cons of solar power. The team’s research showed solar was well worth pursuing. Ideal Energy of Fairfield, Iowa, was chosen to design and build the array. The two companies developed an ambitious ‘net-zero’ design, meaning the array provides 100% of Steffensmeier’s energy needs.
The energy intensive nature of Steffensmeier’s laser cutting, welding, and CNC work made solar a daunting proposition. Ideal Energy faced several additional challenges, as well. The company’s buildings didn’t provide enough roof space for an array large enough to achieve net-zero. Shading from the buildings was also a problem.
Ideal Energy’s solution was to design a key-shaped ground-mounted array to maximize exposure to the sun. The mounting racks were installed using a hydraulic ram, a method pioneered in Germany’s solar industry.
The result is a 430.66 kW solar array that will pay for itself in 4-6 years with annual savings of over $90,000. Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing is the largest manufacturing and welding business in Iowa with a net-zero solar installation.
USING SOLAR SAVINGS TO STAGE GROWTH
Jenny has already put her solar savings to work by investing in her employees with increased benefits and additional training. The new benefits package adds coverage for dental, vision, and long-term and short-term disability. “Those are additional benefits – brand new,’ she said. In addition to the benefits package, Steffensmeier is paying for four employees to receive AutoCAD training at the local community college.
The company is also adding a second shift. As this goes to press, Jenny is in the process of hiring the first new worker for the second shift. More hires will follow. Governor Terry Branstad, who visited Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing for the solar array’s ground breaking ceremony, said, “It’s important to remember that 80% of the new jobs in our state come from existing businesses.” Jenny’s company shows how solar power provides that economic multiplier effect, with utility savings directly contributing to job growth.
Further business expansion is on the horizon with the possible purchase of additional equipment that will bring new opportunities to the business. Jenny emphasized that strong cash flow is essential to big ticket equipment purchases.
Jenny is also excited by her newfound ability to increase her company’s community involvement. “It’s important to me that I give back to the community,” she said. “I’m absolutely able to do more than I would have as far as giving to community events.”
US Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Grassley visits the Steffensmeier solar field and gives a public address about the importance of distributed clean energy systems for Iowa’s farms and industries.
AN AWARD WINNING SOLAR PROJECT
The solar array has also provided intangible benefits. Extensive press coverage, a visit from Governor Branstad, a visit from US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and a 1000 Friends of Iowa Best Development Award in the Renewable Energy category have all contributed. “The coverage has been nothing but positive,” Jenny said. “It has catapulted us into view.”
The coverage has been nothing but positive.
It has catapulted us into view.
Jenny said the keys to her successful solar installation were research, due diligence, and the expertise of her solar design and construction provider, Ideal Energy. “They did a tremendous job from beginning to end,” she said. “And they continue to.”