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Solar energy to power apartments

Project will supply about half of power apartments require

March 22, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

SLEEPY EYE - Less than two months after the Sleepy Eye City Council approved Tim Zinniel's request to install a 3.51-kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic solar panel system on his downtown building, he smiles when the sun shines.

Zinniel recently installed 15 solar panels along the southern edge of the building roof, above apartment windows at 45-degree angles, forming an awning on the building.

Because there was so much shade from an adjacent building, Zinniel told the council he needed to put the solar panels just above the building's second-floor apartment windows.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Zinniel Electric Vice President Timothy Zinniel stands across Main Street from a solar panel project he recently added to the former Ben Franklin store building in Sleepy Eye.

The $20,000 project produces about 4,557 annual kWh, enough to offset about half of the power the apartments require. Zinniel said the project would pay for itself in 12-15 years, including applicable tax breaks to help defray costs.

He added that pending city council approval, phase two of his downtown project includes installing solar panels above a horizontal metal awning over the sidewalk to provide more building power.

Phase 3 of the project is more futuristic. It includes adding electric vehicle charging stations near parking stalls in front of the building.

"Education is the key with renewable energy," Zinniel said. "The next big (future energy) step is to store solar energy in batteries, hot water, rocks, and other ways."

Solar energy is among the world's most underutilized energy sources, according to Zinniel.

"Solar panels that face south could be added to buildings to produce power up and down Main Street here," Zinniel said.

The company sells and installs Minneapolis-based tenKsolar panels and other brands made in Georgia and China.

Zinniel Electric's past solar projects include a Mankato body shop, a Missouri Department of Transportation site, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife-Morris Wetlands building, a learning center in Savage, a farm near Wabasso, and a Britt, Iowa trucking firm, among others.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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