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Solar energy made attractive

Velux water-heating solar panels could pass for skylights, which has Paul Steiner excited about being a dealer for them. "We really try to make our projects esthetically pleasing, so when I saw these, I thought, man, that's the cat's meow," says Steiner, standing next to the panels. Photo by Randy Hanson

Paul Steiner is enthusiastic about the solar water-heating system his company installed last week on a house at 927 Eighth St.

"The thing that's so cool about these is that when you look at the house you don't know that they're solar panels," Steiner said of the Velux brand panels on the roof of Lee and Lori Kisling's house.

One of the drawbacks to solar energy, from Steiner's perspective, is that some people consider the solar arrays unattractive.

Velux, which began as a Danish skylight company, has solved that problem by making an esthetically pleasing panel that lies flat on the roof.

Just as attractive is the 50- to 80-percent drop in water-heating costs that a solar water heater brings, according to Steiner, owner of Steiner Plumbing & Electric of River Falls.

Furthermore, the federal government is offering a 30-percent tax credit on the purchase of solar energy systems and the state Focus on Energy program will rebate roughly 20 percent of the cost.

The result is that the Kislings will end up getting the $10,000-to-$11,000 system for about half the price.

The same goes for the larger electricity-producing photovoltaic system they had Steiner Plumbing and Electric install.

"I'm a true believer," Lee Kisling, the president Twin City Signal, said when asked about his reasons for installing solar energy systems.

The photovoltaic system will allow Kisling to sell electricity to Xcel Energy when it produces more power than the house is using.

Steiner is a believer, too.

"To me, we all have to be doing something to reduce energy consumption," he said. "That's the reason I got into this."

Steiner believes the world will run out of fossil fuel energy within a lifetime at the rate people are currently using it.

"The world cannot sustain where we're at. We have to change what we're doing," he said. "And why not? This is free energy."

He said putting money into a solar-energy system is a better investment than the stock market when you consider the energy-savings you'll realize over a 30-year period.

A solar hot-water system pays for itself in about 10 years, he said.

Steiner said renewable energy projects have been keeping his company busy.

As of this week, he had about 15 photovoltaic projects in the works, including ones at the Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul and at the Designer Doors factory in River Falls.

Steiner Plumbing & Electric also puts up wind-power generators.

Steiner said he was in Wausau pouring the base for a wind tower on Tuesday and would be in Madison working on another wind-power project next week.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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