US (WI): West Star Organics' greenhouse gets green with solar project

Long before the invention of solar panels, greenhouses have been running on a different sort of solar power, trapping heat from the sun to give plants a warm place to grow even in the dead of winter.

But running a big, commercial greenhouse, especially in Wisconsin, requires lots more energy, too: gas heaters to keep plants warm on winter nights and electricity to power the fans to keep the greenhouse from overheating. Now, thanks to a combination of grants, rebates and tax credits, one local greenhouse has gone solar in a new way by generating enough electricity to offset all its use.

“It's kind of a natural relationship for us to utilize the sun to also provide some of our electrical energy,” said Randal Kohn, co-owner of West Star Organics in Cottage Grove, which sells organic vegetables, herbs and flowers for local garden enthusiasts. 

Kohn and his wife Tanya began thinking about installing solar panels shortly after they took over the company from his parents in 2018. One big motivation: the money they could save by harnessing the sun to power the massive fans and shutters that release excess hot air from the greenhouses. With one of its greenhouses standing at nearly 15,000 square feet, the company often racks up electric bills of $500 a month, sometimes as high as $2,000 in the summer.


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