New Berlin Letterhead Press Taps Large Solar Project To Cut Power Bill

Jan 15, 2016 11:53:00 AM

January 15, 2016 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  

New Berlin's Letterhead Press Inc. is turning to the sun to help it manage a rising energy bill.

The commercial printing and finishing company at 16800 W. Ryerson Road is operating the largest solar installation in Waukesha County.

Madison-based SunPeak Power built the project last fall, erecting more than 1,300 solar panels in a parking lot just behind and to the north of the building. The panels will supply about one-fourth of the electricity used by Letterhead.

The project will be recognized as one of the largest solar projects installed in 2015 at Renew Wisconsin's policy summit next week in Madison, said Tyler Huebner, the group's executive director. The Letterhead Press solar installation was the fourth largest built last year in the state, and stands as the 10th largest solar project across Wisconsin, he said.

The solar industry is poised for more growth given falling prices of solar panels — down by half over the past five years — and a move by Congress to extend tax credits for solar, he said. A report out this week by the Solar Foundation, a research group in Washington, D.C., estimated that the number of people employed in the solar sector has risen by 20% for three straight years.

Sun Peak, the commercial solar developer that worked with Letterhead to install the panels, expanded from two to five employees last year and is hoping to add another 10 this year, said Matt Bellehumeur, sales development director. The company is actively working in Wisconsin and nearby states, and installed an even larger solar array last year in Madison at Central Storage & Warehouse Co.

Across the state, Wisconsin's solar generation expanded by 38% last year, adding 7 megawatts and reaching 25. Across the nation, more than 7,500 megawatts of new solar generation started generating power in 2015.

Bellehumeur projected that Letterhead would save about $1.5 million over the life of the solar project. The payback period is about five years, said John Davis, continuous improvement manager at Letterhead Press. Letterhead Press has cut its energy use by 40% through energy-saving projects in recent years. Letterhead's project was helped with a $236,000 grant from the state Focus on Energy program.

Michael Graf, president of Letterhead, said he has been searching for ways to stay competitive, whether expanding through exports or by cutting costs through energy savings.

The company has seen electricity prices rise by about 75% since 2000, but will have a little more control over its energy costs thanks to the new project, he said.

"As electricity prices continue to increase, as we have to spend more and more on the grid, and all the infrastructure things we have to invest in, producing it on-site makes a lot of sense," he said.

"My goal is to make the company 100% self-sufficient. Some people might think that's crazy. And it might be a little bit, but five years from now I believe people will look back and say we had a really good idea."

This article was written by Thomas Content for the Journal Sentinel