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Epicurean uses solar array to capture the sun on Connors Point

The cutting board and kitchen implements manufacturer is offsetting its energy needs with 197-kilowatt solar array.

Solar panels sit outside of Epicurean on Connors Point in Superior
Solar panels outside of Epicurean's manufacturing facility on Connors Point were turned on for the first time Thursday, Oct. 27, and are expected to meet about 25% of the company's energy needs for the next 30 years in Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Epicurean flipped the switch on its solar array Thursday, Oct. 27.

Within the first hour, on a cloudy day in late October, the cutting board and kitchen implement manufacturer gathered 38 kilowatts of energy from the solar array between its 60,000-square-foot facility and Main Street.

That’s just the beginning.

Over the next 30 years, the company anticipates fulfilling about 25% of its energy needs from the 197-kilowatt array consisting of 438 solar panels. And when the cost of installing the system is recovered in 10 years, all of that energy will be free, saving the company about $50,000 annually, said Tony Ciardelli, one of the company's founders and its CEO. Currently, he said the company spends about $15,000 per month on utilities.

The savings are based on current electrical rates, which could increase as early as January 2023. Superior Water, Light & Power is seeking a 3.1% increase in electric rates through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

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“We are in a prime location to use the sun’s rays to offset our monthly demand,” Ciardelli said. “It’s a really green way to harness the sun and convert it to electricity. And Epicurean was founded basically on reduce, reuse, recycle.”

The company was founded by Ciardelli and Dave Benson, evolving as a way to reuse scrap material from TrueRide, builders and designers of skate parks including Superior’s in Heritage Park.

Solar panels are installed outside of Epicurean
Solar panels were installed over the summer at Epicurean on Connors Point. On Wednesday, Sept. 28, when the photo was taken, they remained inoperable while company officials waited to for energy inverter to be installed.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Founded in Duluth, the company expanded on Superior’s Connors Point in 2017 after an extensive remodeling of the former Woodline Manufacturing building at 257 B Main St. As part of the remodeling project, Epicurean added a lot of windows to take advantage of natural light, installed a heat recovery system, and upgraded electric motors and drives to run more energy efficiently, Ciardelli said.

“We would have liked to have done this (solar) day one, but we kind of ran out of money,” Ciardelli said. “We feel there is a need to kind of push this in our region.”

After doing a smaller solar project on his home and seeing what that produces, Ciardelli said he wanted to do the same for the business.

Epicurean worked with Wescom of Duluth to plan and install the array over the summer.

“It’s the largest, privately-held commercial array in the Duluth and Superior area,” said Shane Stolp, owner and CEO of Wescom.

“We had this ugly boulevard here that was doing nothing for us, and we’re putting it to work," Ciardelli said.

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The cost of installing the system requires a commitment because the payback takes 10 years.

“Ten years goes by pretty fast,” Ciardelli said. “The warranty and the panels should last 30 years so after that 10, you have 20 years of the sun kind of working free for you.”

Stolp said as the grid gets stretched, significant investment is will be needed to sustain demand for electricity, and it will be the users of that grid who bear the costs. There is no good way to quantify how rates will increase, but he said by installing solar, people don’t have to worry about how rates will go.

“It’s time for us to do our part,” Stolp said. “If we’re going to talk that talk, let’s walk that walk. This is an exciting day for Wescom just simply because we get to meet a couple of guys who are willing to make that investment, do the right thing. This is exciting.”

Ciardelli said people have to evaluate a project for themselves.

“These guys laid it out so well for us on paper,” Ciadelli said. “What’s the cost to not do it? I think that was the eye-opener for us.”

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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