BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Two Fort Madison business owners are being recognized by an Iowa group for business projects they completed in 2016.
Todd Schneider, owner of School House Apartments and Jenny Steffensmeier of Steffensmeier Welding and Manufacturing in Pilot Grove were notified last week that they had been tapped by 1000 Friends of Iowa for the group’s “Best Development Projects of 2016” The two will be received at a reception with state officials on Jan. 19 in Des Moines as part of the group’s honorees.
Both projects are anchored by solar technology and using renewable resources to enhance business and reduce the reliance on more traditional forms of energy.
According to a release from the 1000 Friends group, five independent jurors from across the state selected projects that implement the efficient use of resources to develop sustainable communities that provide a high quality of life.
Steffensmeier’s company installed a solar panel field behind the company’s facility just north of Pilot Grove. The field has 24 rows with more than 1,400 panels at a cost of more than $1 million. The project was one of the largest in the state at the time and attracted a visit from U.S. Agriculture Secretary and Iowa governor Tom Vilsack in the fall. The project won the group’s Best Development Award for Renewable Energy.
Schnieder’s award was for the overall Best Renovated Residential project.
“Sheri (Yasenchock-General Manager) worked her tail off to get that in. When we got the call, Sheri called up and said “Jenny, there’s a lady on the phone from 1000 Friends..and we won. It’s just so cool,” Steffensmeier.
Steffensmeier said her project has resulted in a net gain for the company in electrical usage, but they haven’t fully realized the grid’s potential as she’s still supplementing energy from Alliant.
“With the winter shorter months we’re having to run the generator a bit,” Steffensmeier said.
“In the purchase agreement with Alliant, we have to stay under 20,000 kilowatts for 12 consecutive months. Once we fulfill that the generator can go away and so can our scheduling woes. For example sunlight starts at whatever time of day and we see this on graphs but we don’t get full benefit until about 9:30ish in the morning. So right now we’re scheduling to take advantage of that. What will eventually happen is the surplus energy will just go on the meter and when we are producing more than we are consuming it will be “banked” on the meter. Long story short, we’re $3,700 to the good on our electrical usage.”
Schneider has been working on the School House apartments for just over three years after purchasing the former Fort Madison Junior High School in 2014. He handled the general contractor role and put together a construction team for most of the rehabilitation, but used some sub contractors for electrical and plumbing.
“We tried to be as green as we could,” Schneider said. We use heat pumps which is like an air conditioner running backwards. It will pull the heat from the air to help heat the homes… things like that that people don’t get to see. We put things like that in place to help be more efficient.”
But people certainly get to see the solar panels that adorn the top of the parking area. What isn’t so visible is the majority of the approximate 900 panels that sit on the roof and over the western section of the building.
Schneider, and Steffensmeier as well, used Ideal Energy out of Fairfield for the installation of the solar equipment. The company, owned by former U.S. Navy SEAL Troy Van Beek is a solar energy construction and consulting agency.
“I firmly believe in the power of clean energy to transform our world. In 2006, I returned home to the Midwest after spending 12+ years serving in the US Navy SEAL teams and working elite security details in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I was intimately aware of the issues surrounding carbon-based energy sources, and wanted to pursue energy alternatives that could increase global security and create a healthier planet,” Van Beek says on the company’s website.
Schneider’s solar project cost about $1.1 million of the entire project’s $5.5 million price tag.
Schneider said he had just heard about the project receiving the award before he left for vacation prior to Christmas. But he says the real joy from the project comes from the residents who now have a new home.
“Several times I’ve had renters who tell me they love living here,” Schneider said. “I had one guy tell me, ‘I love going home and I tell my friends that and they think I’m crazy’. You walk through the hallways and rarely do we see anybody. The people that live here don’t see it as an apartment because it’s so quiet, but more as a home and that’s huge for me.”
The project was also recognized as they Roof-Mount Solar Project of the Year by Solar Builder magazine, a national publication focused on solar power and it’s utilization across the country.