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WisconSUN Solar Photovoltaic Project

Mike Kastman, Gamaliel Valencia, Julio Espinosa, Gloria Perez, and Elizabeth Kivlin (L to R) of Helios Solarworks stand in front of one of the robots that assists in the manufacturing process of solar panels.

The genius of the American business landscape is its ability to adapt to an ever changing world. Fueled by increasing energy prices, timely policies that support in-state clean technology deployment and a growing demand for energy independence, the Wisconsin solar sector has been a relative bright spot of job creation. Despite the steady decline in jobs that has afflicted the state’s economy, companies like Waukesha-based SunVest have reported 259% growth from the previous year. 

In fact, a 2011 analysis by the Energy Law & Policy Center demonstrated how diverse and complete the Wisconsin solar industry is. The ELPC report revealed the existence of 135 solar power supply chain businesses in the state.  If Wisconsin companies are able to keep pace with the increased hiring trend reported in the 2011 Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs Census report, 400 additional jobs would be added in the state of Wisconsin in 2012 solar alone.

Wisconsin is unique in that most major components of solar PV system can now be built from parts manufactured and assembled by companies already located in the state.  Many companies in Wisconsin have already responded by retooling and expanding to meet the over 100% industry growth experienced in 2011. Through support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities program, the MadiSUN Solar program launched the WisconSUN Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Project aimed to assemble the first-of-its-kind solar array made from components manufactured in Wisconsin.

In the summer of 2011, a contest was held to find a host for this Badger state solar system.  By highlighting the Wisconsin solar supply chain, the project’s objective is to spur meaningful action in support of solar energy by regional economic development groups, Wisconsin manufacturing groups, policymakers and those who are looking to add solar panels to their home or business in support of Wisconsin’s solar economy.

The accompanying photo essay quite literally shows the face of the industry in our state. Photographer Kurt Baehmann visited a number of firms involved in the WisconSUN PV Project to show us the people behind the companies, demonstrating that a commitment to supporting the state’s solar industry is not just about protecting the environment, but about increasing the availability of jobs for the hard-working people of Wisconsin.

The WisconSUN Solar PV project, which is scheduled for completion in Feb 2012, will be hosted by Union Cab, a worker-owned and operated taxi cooperative committed to environmental responsibility and workers' rights. 

WisconSUN Project Partners
Helios Solar Works is based in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley, manufacturing high-performance mono-crystalline solar panels.  Helios not only doubled its workforce in 2011, they source their materials from as close as possible, including Cardinal Glass, another subject of this photo essay.

Members of the office staff at Helios pose in front of solar panels that are used in office furnishings, including Cooper Johnson, Angie Domagalski and Oscar Chillon (standing), with Luz Sosa in front. 

As a leading manufacturer of glass for the window and door industries, Cardinal is an example of a company that utilized its industry expertise in a certain product, recognized an opportunity in the growth industry of solar panel glass, and then invested in constructing a large manufacturing plant in Mazomanie.  Due to the economic downturn and a reduction in demand for domestic solar panels they were recently forced to lay off a significant portion of their workforce.  Hopefully with renewed support they will be able to once again hire back their team members.

Mike Konvalinka, Brandon Bindl, Chad Amble, and Tracy Olson (L to R) of Cardinal Glass with a rack of glass that will be used in the manufacture of solar panels.

The solar system’s inverter came from the Spanish firm Ingeteam, which in 2010 expanded to the United States by building a $15 million electrical component manufacturing facility in Milwaukee.  

(L to R) Iñigo Artieda and Jered Diebold of Ingeteam meet with Tom Wineke and Andrew Bangert of H&H Group on the day they were finishing installation at Union Cab in Madison, with Ingeteam's power inverter on the wall in the middle.  The inverter converts DC current coming from the solar panels into AC power, which is then used by the maintenance operations at Union Cab, with the excess power fed back into the electric grid.

Providing installation services for the project is the
H&H Group out of Madison, which has 185 employees, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which runs the state’s foremost electrical installer apprentice program.

Brian Watts (left) and Chad Silverthorne of the H&H Group install a solar panel on a home in Madison.

Finally, RSTC Enterprises in Eau Claire contributed the junction box, providing a safe and secure means for the projects’ wires to enter the building.  RSTC is a great example of the ingenuity and innovation shown by Wisconsin manufacturers to stay ahead of the curve in technology.  Owner Steve Capozzi started his company after recognizing the need for satellite dish installers to have a better way to bring wires into the building instead of simply drilling through the roof.  So he invented Commdeck, a metal box that integrates with roofing shingles to maintain the integrity of the roof, while also providing an organized space for the various wire connections.  He then realized that solar installers have a similar need, and began working with the industry to adapt to their needs by creating Soladeck, and now a significant portion of his business comes from solar.  He sources his materials from local suppliers, and it’s a family business as well, joined by his brother Tim, and son-in-law Adam.

Adam Haas, Steve Capozzi and Tim Capozzi pose with their product, Soladeck.

Charles S. Carome, an owner-operator at the cooperative-based Union Cab, poses with his new fuel efficient Toyota Prius while Tom Wineke and Andrew Bangert of H&H Group install the WisconSUN Solar PV System on the roof of Union Cab's maintenance shed on April 20, 2012. 

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Helios SolarWorks

Julio Espinoza and Elizabeth Kivlin prepare solar cells for a panel.  Elizabeth tosses a piece of protective sheeting to Gina Mierzejewski that will seal the back of a solar panel.

Gloria Perez (left) and Gina Mierzejewski lay strings of solar cells.

Tony Tran shows off a row of completed solar cells, while Gloria Perez uses an angled mirror to check the panel for defects before sending it to a robot for the next step in the manufacturing process.

H & H Group


Foreman Chad Silverthorne (left) strings wires to connect solar panels, while Brian Watts prepares a panel to be installed.


Ingeteam's Iñigo Artieda, an engineer and R&D manager, demonstrates some of their newest mobile application software and gets valuable feedback from one of Wisconsin's most experienced solar installers, H&H Group's Andrew Bangert, after he installed the Ingeteam inverter at the site of the WisconSUN Solar PV Project.

Cardinal Glass
The employees of Cardinal Glass are proud to be a part of the company's newest division, specializing in glass for solar panels.

              Ed Weldon (left) and Terry Stonger                                           Kristina Sanderfoot

                             Rava Johnson                                                                Mee Thao

                         Jeremy Liegel                                                                      Josh Smith

                                        Jacob Hills                                                                        Kelly Varana


RSTC Enterprises

                        Tim Capozzi (left) and Adam Haas prepare Soladeck junction boxes for shipping.