Solar Project Heats Up in Iowa


Sheffield, IA-based Sukup Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest family-owned and operated manufacturer of grain storage, grain drying and handling equipment, and steel buildings, wanted to reduce its energy consumption off the grid and promote greener practices at its facilities. With the help of Interstates and Van Wall Energy of Perry, IA, Sukup pursued the installation of a 780-Kilowatt Solar PV system in Sheffield. Interstates provided on-site electrical services and engineering consulting and coordination between the solar designer and the utility company.

Going green with solar panels was a new venture for Sukup, and it’s a new and interesting avenue for Interstates as well. “We have done a few solar projects in the past, and after seeing how well this project went, we are excited about upcoming opportunities to work on green or renewable sources of energy,” says Roger Cannoy, Regional Manager at Interstates’ Fort Dodge, IA, location.

Working on a new kind of project meant a slight learning curve, but Interstates was flexible and able to figure out the best solution for each challenge. “At the time, this was the largest private solar installation in the state of Iowa, so just the size created some challenges,” says Darin Vreugdenhil, Project Coordinator at Interstates. The expansiveness of the solar project led to technical difficulties when it came to the point of interconnection with the utility provider.

“We realized there was a gap between the solar designer and the utility company, so we used our network and our expertise to help with coordination and communication to find a solution. We ended upbringing in a medium-voltage expert to be a consultant and facilitate the final connections. It was the largest project Van Wall had done, and we had some learning to do, too, but overall it was a good experience, and we were able to provide a quality installation for the client,” says Cannoy.

Sukup took a hands-on approach to this project, as their in-house engineering and manufacturing team designed and fabricated part of the custom racking system for the array. “Our goal at Sukup in moving forward with this solar array was to control electrical costs at our production facility, as well as reduce our carbon footprint and dependence on the electrical grid,” said Andy Schmitt, Sukup Supply Chain Manager and third-generation family member. “We also envision reducing risk in the face of rising electric costs in the future.”

Jake West, Solar Energy Specialist at Van Wall Energy, oversaw solar design and installation on the project. After the hard work of installation and finalizing equipment and connection issues with the utility provider, the solar project is operating as designed and already saving on energy costs. “We are monitoring the array, and it’s doing very well. The interesting thing is that we have access to on-site security cameras with real-time footage to monitor what’s going on with the weather. It will be beneficial in the winter when we can see if there is too much snow cover or drifting on the modules for them to produce as they should,” says West.

“Sukup has reacted very positively to this project and hopes to do more phases down the road. Right now, solar is offsetting a small portion of their electrical needs, about 10-12%. If we do go forward with more phases, that could go up to 85-90%,” says West, who adds that solar is an excellent investment because the costs have been coming down and tax credits are still available. He says that Van Wall’s partnership with Interstates was a great asset. “Interstates was very professional and had lots of expertise at the ready. They provided a lot of guidance and good connections with other companies,” says West.

Vreugdenhil sees the partnerships Interstates fosters as essential to business. “I think our coordination efforts helped the client and the project in the long run. We were good at identifying the goal and the problem and stressing to everyone that we needed to maintain a team focus to meet our end goal,” he says.

Cannoy agrees, saying, “Our coordination skills and project management resources were beneficial for this project. We were able to help everybody connect and resolve issues – from installers to inspectors to the utility company. We facilitated that communication, which ultimately led to a successful outcome for this solar project.”

Interstates are already pursuing more solar projects. According to Vreugdenhil, “We’re working on several additional solar opportunities and seeing what we can do in the future. We’d love to have more of this kind of work and bring it to our existing clients.”

This article was originally published in the Current Connections Fall 2020 issue.


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