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Solar power works to flex its muscle


SPICER -- Geothermal heating and cooling systems require a sizeable investment up front, but offer a proven payback through reduced energy costs.

Thermal solar is no different. And as did geothermal energy, it could use government support to kickstart the industry.

Randy Hagen, with Solar Skies of Alexandria, told representatives of U.S. Sen. Al Franken that tax credits and other incentives remain important to launching the solar thermal industry.

He also emphasized a need for consistency in government support for the industry. He and others addressed the senator's staff members during a visit March 29 to Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.

Solar Skies manufactures panels that tap the sun to produce thermal energy for all kinds of home and business needs. In the home, they can help warm water for showers and washing clothes and help keep the house heated.

They work hard in commercial settings too. They warm the pools of the Kalhihari Resort at Wisconsin Dells. They heat the process boiler water used by Wigwam Mills in Sheboygan, Wis.

They don't do nearly as much work in Minnesota as they could, according to Hagen. Although founded in Starbuck and now located in Alexandria, the company sees most of its sales in other states. He said inconsistency in Minnesota policy to support solar thermal has hurt sales here.

Other states, ranging from Arizona to Wisconsin, have consistent and well-tailored incentives that help the industry grow, he said.

He also urged policy makers to look at solar energy no differently than other types of renewable energy. Too often solar energy is counted as conservation. It should be valued as an energy generator and count toward the renewable production standards, Hagen explained.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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