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Wisconsin Businessman Creates Fund To Help Nonprofits Go Solar

Courtesy of Componex
Solar panels line the roof of Cal Couillard's business, Componex.

Cal Couillard has been intrigued with solar energy since the 1970s. But, it wasn't until this year that he took the plunge, and had solar panels installed at his Edgerton-based business.  He also created a fund to help others "go solar."

Solar energy used to be expensive, Coulliard explains, and therefore, only people who wanted to be green jumped aboard. Now, he says, prices have dropped dramatically and it makes sense financially.

READ: Three Efforts That Showcase Wisconsin's Solar Energy Expansion

“I had been interested in this for 40 years and then I started looking into it for Componex (his company) and realized hey, solar collectors have really dropped in price significantly and now basically you can be green and you can save green at the same time," he says.

The one-quarter-megawatt solar power system atop his manufacturing facility can produce about 280,000 to 300,000 kilowatts of energy per year. "I would estimate I use about 240,000, so we will produce more electricity than we use," he explains. "So it gets sold back to the utility."

Credit Courtesy of Componex
697 solar panels being installed.

Around the time he decided to install panels at his business, Couillard attended a seminar. “It was about putting your money into something that makes you happy,” he says.

And that seminar lead to Couillard’s eureka moment. “It just hit me at the right moment. We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. Instead of just talking about it, what if I really make a big effort. What if I get as many solar voltaic systems installed as I possibly can until the end of my time?”

"Basically I want to spread the message that solar is not just green for the environment, it's green monetarily."

Couillard and his wife Laurie were inspired and created Solar for Good, which awards grants to nonprofits to help them go solar through the help of the Madison-based advocacy group RENEW Wisconsin.

“The idea is that if we can install on churches and other nonprofits then all the people that are going there will also see this happening. So basically I want to spread the message that solar is not just green for the environment, it’s green monetarily. You can actually save money doing it. It pays for itself. And I want to get that word out because I don’t think a lot of people know it,” he says.

Couillard contributed $125,000 to get the fund going, and plans to continue at that pace over the coming years.

“I can’t guarantee it forever but I’m hoping that I can continue to do that and stay at that level." He adds, “And I’d like to see if maybe other people might like to do this as well because I feel there’s this cascading effect. Once you reach all of these parishioners and all these people that are in these groups all of a sudden now they’re seeing it. I want to magnify that effect.”

Credit Claire Lindstrom
Cal and Laurie Couillard with their granddaughter Genevieve.

Couillard believes “we all” have to transition to renewable energy. “I think people are waiting for somebody else to do it. They’re waiting for the power companies to do it. They’re waiting for our legislators to do it. They’re waiting for somebody else to get it done. I just don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s going to need to come from the people at the bottom, because there’s a lot of money burning fossil fuels and the people that are in power do not want to stop doing that.”

Couillard thinks of his children and grandchildren. “I feel like I’m giving them a bad deal and I’m not going to bury my head in the sand and say we’re not involved in these (climate) changes that are occurring. This is a great little plant that we live on and I don’t believe we should be doing what we’re doing."

Ten nonprofits applied for a Solar for Good grant. The first round of grant recipients will be announced soon, and a new batch of applicants will be considered in the spring.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>