The Electrical Worker online
December 2012

IBEW Shines Light on Minnesota's Solar Future
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When Minneapolis Local 292 instructor Darryl Thayer began preaching the good word about solar energy more than 40 years ago, he didn't have much of an audience. The 56-year member started a solar thermal business in the 1960s, back when oil was cheap and plentiful and most Americans assumed it would always be that way. Still, that didn't stop him from talking up the importance of renewable energy to elected officials and union members. But, as he told the Electrical Worker in 2009, many of his fellow workers "thought I was nuts."

No more. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Thayer, 18 Local 292 electricians went to work this summer installing the state's largest solar project. The 1-megawatt solar array on the roof of the Twin Cities' Ikea furniture store can produce enough energy to light up 100 homes. And that will go a long way to powering the 142,000-square-foot store with clean, green energy.

"It was the largest photovoltaic job I've even been involved with," says Local 292 member Steve Hartley, who served as general foreman on the project.

Hartley credits Thayer with sparking his interest in solar. He was one of the earliest enrollees in Local 292's photovoltaic trainee program — founded in part by Thayer, who members refer to as "the grandfather of solar."

While solar has had a slower start in Minnesota compared with other sunnier locales, Local 292 saw photovoltaics as a key part of the state's energy future — and wanted to make sure it was on the ground floor.

The local has one of the most state-of-the-art solar training facilities in the country, financed through a dues surcharge agreed upon by the membership.

The center also received financial support from photovoltaic equipment manufacturers, which saw the need for a trained solar work force to install their products.

"They helped us get more than $100,000 of high-tech equipment," says Thayer. "This is really a unique program."

The Ikea job, which was part of the Swedish chain's global solar initiative, took more than three months to complete. While Minnesota is more likely to conjure images of frosty winters than triple digit heat, Hartley says that the surface temperature on the roof routinely exceeded 130° F in the middle of the summer.

"It was challenging to say the least," says Hartley. But despite the weather, the job was completed on time and under budget.

He says he gives a lot of credit to his workers who delivered a quality installation safely.

SoCore Energy, a specialist in the rooftop solar installation, did the job in partnership with Chapel-Romanoff Technologies LLC, an Ohio-based signatory contractor. St. Paul-based Hunt Electric was the electrical contractor on site.

"I like doing this kind of work, because it is so cutting edge," says Hartley. "There are tons of flat roof tops everywhere, so it's a kind of project I expect to see more of."


The Ikea furniture store in Bloomington, Minn., is now site to the largest solar array in the state.