Ashley Furniture's headquarters and manufacturing facility in Arcadia, Wis., has about 67 acres of roof, which can accommodate a roughly 7-megawatt solar array that would be the largest rooftop system in Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture intends to spend $29 million on solar panels to power its factories as part of a plan to offset more than a third of its energy needs.

The company, with electricity demands equivalent to more than 10,000 Wisconsin homes, expects to trim its electric bills by $5 million in the first year alone.

“We need a lot of energy to manufacture our products and it only makes sense to use renewable sources,” founder and chairman Ron Wanek said in a statement. “This is a long-term investment, not only for Ashley, but for our environment. We are taking proactive steps and hope to see others in our industry join us.”

The first phase of installations involves about 17.5 megawatts of capacity, said Chad Sorenson, president of Madison-based SunPeak, which is handling the design, construction and maintenance of the projects.

Included in that is a roughly 7-megawatt system on the roof of Ashley’s headquarters campus in Arcadia, which would be the largest rooftop solar system in the state, according to Renew Wisconsin.

Construction is expected to begin this month on a smaller installation at a distribution center in Romeoville, Illinois.

Solar panels are planned for factories in California, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. Those in Arcadia and Ecru, Mississippi, are likely to be the largest.

Ashley’s goal is to offset 35 percent of its electricity needs, which will likely result in more panels.

Epic, AmFam

Ashley will join Wisconsin-based companies such as Epic Systems Corp., of Verona, and Madison-based American Family Insurance, which have systems larger than 1 megawatt. Target and Walmart have long been national leaders, with more than 100 megawatts each, while tech giants have contracted for record amounts of solar energy to power data centers.

Over the past decade, the price of solar panels has fallen about 70 percent, making it more than just a way to be green, said Shawn Rumery, director of research for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“They want to meet sustainability goals, but they also want to save money,” Rumery said.

Sorenson said the size of the projects allowed the company to save money on both the parts and the engineering.

“This portfolio will be among the most cost-competitive systems for rooftop solar in the country,” he said.

State’s biggest

The system planned for the 67-acre rooftop of the Arcadia facility would be larger than any single solar facility currently operating in Wisconsin and larger than one being installed by the local utility.

“It’s almost like a city under a roof,” Sorenson said.

Ashley’s fleet of electric forklifts and pallet-jacks provides an existing storage system that Sorenson said will make the solar panels even more effective.

An Ashley spokesman said the company plans to use all the energy generated on site, rather than selling excess power back to local utilities.

Sorenson, who founded SunPeak in 2014, said this will be the company’s largest project to date.

“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “This is a big step up for us. It’s a real national customer that everybody’s heard of.”

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Covers energy and the environment for the Wisconsin State Journal. Rhymes with Lubbock. Contact him at 608-252-6146.