The sun always shines for local insurance agency
Roof has nearly 3,000 square feet of solar panels

By Brandon Anderegg - Freeman Staff

Sept. 19, 2017

Jeff Tjugum’s American Family Insurance Agency on 144 E. Summit Ave. in Wales has installed 2,295 square feet of solar panels on the roof.
Submitted photo

WALES - Eco-friendly technology and renewable energy in business has become more than just a trend as words like "sustainability" and "green" have entered the daily lexicon of even the smallest companies. Take local American Family Insurance agent Jeff Tjugum's office in Wales, for example, which now has 2,295 square feet of solar panels on the roof.

Though Tjugum said going solar was an autonomous decision, it just so happens that the American Family Insurance national headquarters in Madison recently installed 4,500 solar panels on one of their buildings, according to a press release. The solar panels are projected to produce about 1.26 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year and will offset 6-9 percent of the building's electricity use. To put this enormous number into perspective, one kilowatt hour would equal binge watching three episodes on Netflix or approximately three hours using a 280-450 watt plasma TV.

As for the 107-panel solar installation at Tjugum's office, each panel measures 40" by 78," producing 335 watts per panel instantaneously. The system, which was purchased from local Pewaukee company Sunvest Solar, is designed to provide 80-100 percent of the power used by the office and the common areas of the building. The power, which feeds directly into the main electrical service, will be distributed automatically to wherever electricity is being used - lights, air conditioning, appliances, computers and more.

A view of the solar panels from above.
Submitted photo

Besides the fact that Tjugum will make a return on his investment within 7-8 years, any excess power will be sent back to the We Energies electrical grid for credit. In other words, the facility will still have power even on the gloomiest of days.

"You can have a week of weather where it's cloudy every day and then three weeks of sunny weather and still end up with a surplus for the month," said Tjugum. "Roughly nine months out of the year we will run on a surplus and three months of the year we'll run on a deficit."

Tjugum said the idea to go solar came from a conversation with a friend from Madison who had not only installed solar panels on his home but also purchased a petroleum-electric hybrid vehicle. After doing a little research, Tjugum discovered that investing in a hybrid car would only increase the return on the solar panel investment at his office. Thus, he bought a hybrid car and installed a vehicle charging station at his office that runs off power produced by the solar panels. With this new source of renewable energy, Tjugum commutes to and from work at essentially no cost.

According to Tjugum, his solar panels have a lifespan of about 15 years. At 20 years, he said the panels will run at 80 percent efficiency. However, it just so happens that the asphalt on his roof will have to be replaced around the same time. Even so, only the actual panels will have to be replaced. All his other investments including wires, panels, inverters and supply meters will have already been paid off.
 

Ready for the next wave

While Tjugum has entertained the thought that his solar panels may become obsolete over the course of this period, he's not too worried.

"I've already created the infrastructure for that next wave of technology," said Tjugum.

As it turns out, a We Energies program called "Focus on Energy" has partnered with Wisconsin Utilities to provide Tjugum's business with a $4,000 stipend in the form of a check for purchasing and installing solar panels. However, this program is not exclusive to Tjugum's business and is available to anyone interested in making a solar panel investment. In addition, the federal government provides a solar tax credit, known as the investment tax credit, that allows homeowners and businesses to deduct a portion of their solar costs from their taxes, according to energy.gov. Both homeowners and businesses qualify for a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of their solar panel system minus any cash rebates.
 

'Literally, there is nothing to lose'

After the conversation with his friend from Madison and some additional research, Tjugum said his knowledge of renewable energy was like a straight-line learning curve, zero to a hundred. He said that if other businesses took a chance with renewable energy, they would see that this kind of transition is only logical.

"I hope other businesses take the time to research this and consider a similar investment for their benefit and the benefit of all," said Tjugum. "Literally, there is nothing to lose."

Even though the installation caused a racket for two weeks, Tjugum said his employees are enthused because they're proud to work for an operation that is concerned for the environment. For Tjugum, incorporating a sustainable source of energy at the office is as much of a strategic business move as it is lending a hand to Mother Earth.

"There are very few places a business can go where there is a 10 percent assured return on an investment," said Tjugum. "I call it 'everybody wins.' It doesn't matter where you stand politically, the environment is a benefit to everyone."

Email: banderegg@conleynet.com