With a campus as large as CUNA Mutual’s in Waverly along Heritage Road, one would expect the electricity bill would be sizable.
When an opportunity presents itself to potentially cut into that figure, a smart company would take advantage of it. That’s what CUNA had done over the past few months.
On Tuesday, officials with the insurance and investment firm serving credit unions and their members dedicated an array of 952 solar panels expected to produce more than 445,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) for the Waverly facility. That amounts to about 20 percent of the electrical needs for the office, according to facilities director Brian Olson.
Olson said that the company had been considering using solar energy at CUNA’s Waverly property as well as the Madison, Wis., headquarters. CUNA decided to focus on the Waverly site first.
“One thing that really helped out a lot was the nice expanse of green space out here that faces the sun every day,” Olson said.
He said that the company’s move to solar at the Waverly office is “the next step in workplace evolution.”
“This is one of the first steps that we’ve taken toward sustainability, one of the big steps toward sustainability,” Olson said.
CUNA partnered with Eagle Point Solar of Dubuque to build the array to the north side of the building, right outside of the campus’ cafeteria. Olson said that within the next year, the company could add another array on the west side of the building.
“Over the course of 25 years… it takes care of 9,000 tons of carbon dioxide for us,” he said. “That’s more than 200,000 trees that you’d have to plant.”
CUNA also put up a monitoring point in the front lobby that will show how much energy the solar panels are producing from the sun that refreshes every 15 minutes.
Waverly Utilities CEO Darrel Wenzel said that CUNA is a community stalwart, and the utility was glad to help the company with its efforts to bring in the array.
“We applaud CUNA’s efforts to construct and operate a clean, renewable and sustainable energy source and contribute to serving their energy needs for years to come,” Wenzel told the crowd in the cafeteria. “We really truly appreciate CUNA being an anchor business partner in Waverly.
“We thank you for your commitment to combat climate change and preservation of our planet.”
After the opening remarks, the crowd gathered outside near the array, where CUNA executives were joined by Mayor Chuck Infelt and Waverly Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Travis Toliver in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Olson did the honors with an oversized pair of scissors.
Jim Denholm, human resources director with CUNA, said the company is “super excited” about the array, both environmentally and with the investment in the Waverly site.
“It shows that CUNA Mutual in Waverly is really important to us and being a part of this progressive community,” Denholm said. “Working with Waverly (Utilities) and the City of Waverly has been a really neat partnership to do what’s the right thing that will benefit us as a company in the long-term, but it’s just doing the right type of thing.”
Larry Steffen, from Eagle Point, said he had met with Waverly CUNA officials in the very same cafeteria where Tuesday’s event took place.
“It was just four people sitting around and strategizing how solar can benefit, what would be a good strategy to put something in place, to do the analysis and so on,” Steffen recalled. “I did bring several options to the table, so they could evaluate them and see if this truly could make sense.”
He said that when they were through with the meeting, everyone agreed that the solar project was viable. All they needed to know were the next steps, including knowing the rules and regulations from Planning and Zoning, Waverly Utilities and the city.
“I remember the first meeting was July 14,” Steffen said, “and by the time we went before the Planning and Zoning Commission in Waverly, which was a unanimous decision to move forward. We went to the City Council, which was a unanimous decision (to grant a special use permit). Waverly Utilities said, ‘Hey, this is great. We just have to build an interconnection agreement.’ That came off without a hitch.
“Once we got all of those approvals, this project was a go. It went very quick after that.”
Construction on the array started in early October, so it took less than two months to complete. It was turned on Tuesday.
Ward 4 Councilman Mike Sherer and At-Large Councilwoman Edith Waldstein, who both in some way have experiences with solar, were also on hand. Sherer has solar panels on his house, while Waldstein’s employer, Wartburg College, was exploring a solar farm to be built near the Max Cross Country Course.
Sherer said after having the panels on his house for six years, he was excited to see that CUNA was building its array. However, he was somewhat disappointed how the ribbon cutting proceeded.
“They didn’t bother to run the ribbon all the way around the installation,” he said, resulting in laughter by Waldstein and this writer.
“It’s a great back-up. There are times in the summer, when I’m running my electric lawn mower, I realize I’m mowing my grass from the sun.”
He did state that his electric bills have been reduced with his panels. He said 20 percent during the summer is possible.
Waldstein said the college’s plans had gone initially before P&Z in September, but was pulled from a later City Council agenda.
“It’s still an idea that we’re very interested in at Wartburg,” said Waldstein, who is the vice president of admissions at the college. “We had a variety of parameters that we were working with, and it didn’t work out in time. We’ll be back sometime.”
Reverting to her role as a councilwoman, Waldstein said the CUNA array is a great thing.
“Isn’t it great to have a place like CUNA that is forward thinking to initiate things like this and to have a partnership with Waverly Utilities as well,” she said. “It’s an example of good things happening in Waverly.”