Along a quiet back road south of Edgerton, the CEO of a rural manufacturer considers himself a “flea” in the fight against powerful utility companies that rely on fossil fuels for energy.
But in his mind, it’s one worth fighting.
Cal Couillard, CEO of Componex in the town of Fulton, recently donated $125,000 to start the Solar for Good program through Renew Wisconsin. The program will award grants to state nonprofits that want to install solar panels to modify their energy use.
After receiving 23 applications for solar projects, far more than he had expected, Couillard is searching for additional funding sources so he can make every project happen.
He strongly believes solar power will become the standard method of future energy consumption. But first, influential utility companies that lean heavily on coal and other fossil fuels must relinquish their grip on the industry, he said.
“My goal, since I know our utilities are pretty committed to burning coal for the next 20 years, is I want to make sure that as much coal is displaced as possible,” Couillard said. “Right now, the most inefficient power plants out there are coal. Nobody is building new coal plants.”
In August, when his company began generating some electricity through solar panels, Couillard realized a few energy stalwarts discourage solar power usage.
Componex, which makes aluminum rollers for use in other types of machinery, sold some of its power back to a utility. He said the utility paid him a fraction of what it charged him for the rest of his energy.
Through Solar for Good, Couillard hopes to help nonprofits that otherwise would be discouraged by utility company tactics. Nonprofits are a good place to start, he said, because people could see solar panels being used and then make the switch in their own homes.
“I know at the top we have these powerful entities who are trying to block this at the highest possible level,” he said. “But I also knew that at the bottom, if we can get people to take this on at the ground, you really can’t stop the individual at that level.”
The cost of operating solar energy has fallen enough to make panel installation more financially feasible. The monetary advantage is what sells most people, but Couillard believes continued fossil fuel reliance will harm future generations and damage the planet.
He isn’t sure when he will announce the nonprofit recipients. He’s looking for other donors who share his vision for a cleaner environment before the projects become public knowledge, he said.
“My wife and I donating is one thing, but getting all the people involved is really what’s going to make it successful,” Couillard said.
“I don’t think it will be successful if we give $100,000 a year to the fund. I already know it’s not enough because it’s already not enough, and we just started. To be successful, we want to get all those people involved.”