From sunlight to service

Kruse Motors in Marshall builds solar panels for energy efficiency

Photo by Deb Gau Construction for a new solar panel system at Kruse Motors in Marshall started this past fall. The 189-kilowatt system will help provide electricity for two auto dealerships, and cut down on energy costs.

MARSHALL — Over the past few months, Heather Westman said, there have been plenty of questions from the community about the solar panels going up behind the Kruse Motors dealerships in Marshall.

“It’s been really positive. The biggest question has been whether they belong to the hockey arena, or to the city, or us,” said Westman, dealer at Kruse Buick GMC in Marshall.

Although they are in the same neighborhood as the Red Baron Arena and Marshall High School, the two rows of solar panels running behind the dealerships are part of Kruse Motors. Since the beginning of the January, they’ve been helping to generate electricity for Kruse Ford Lincoln and Kruse Buick GMC.

“For us, it’s a huge cost savings,” Westman said. Being more energy-efficient also helps make it easier to provide services to customers, like the car wash at the Kruse Ford Lincoln dealership, she said.

Construction for the solar panels started in fall 2016. Novel Energy Solutions, a Minnesota-based solar company, installed a 189-kilowatt solar system for Kruse Motors.

“For a business, it’s a large size,” said Cliff Kaehler, CEO of Novel Energy Solutions. Novel builds solar systems for a variety of sizes and purposes, from community solar gardens to agricultural systems designed to heat poultry and hog barns.

The solar panels at Kruse Motors can generate about 236 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is enough to power about 40 homes, Kaehler said. He said the solar installation was sized so that most of the electricity it generates will be used by the business.

“It wasn’t designed to put us off the grid,” Westman said, but it will definitely help with energy costs.

If the system generates more electricity than the business can use, it can be sold back to local utilities, Kaehler said.

The solar panels at Kruse Motors are mounted on a fixed framework, toward the back of the dealership property. Ground-mounted solar panels have “the biggest footprint, visually,” compared to rooftop or wall-mounted panels, Kaehler said. However, he said the fixed frame reduces the risk of damage to the panel system and helps it last a long time.

Westman said the solar panels are a new addition to several energy-efficiency measures already in place at the Kruse Motors dealerships in Marshall. For example, the dealership offices use sensors instead of light switches to control when the lights go on. Kruse Motors also stores and recycles its waste oil for use as heating fuel, Westman said.

“It’s about running things more efficiently,” she said. At the same time, however, being able to increase energy efficiency with the solar panels will make it easier to offer services to customers.

“We’ve done a lot of things to be customer-friendly,” Westman said. The car wash at the Kruse Ford Lincoln dealership is a plus for customers, but it also requires a lot of energy. The power generated by the solar panels will help with electrical costs for things like the car wash and outdoor lighting, which is another big use of energy for a car dealership, Westman said.

Westman said Kruse Motors plans to hold an open house this spring, where area residents can learn more about the solar panels. It will be an opportunity to answer some of the many questions the dealership’s been getting.


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