Epic Systems solar panels
Rows of nearly 1,300 solar panels form a slatted canopy over a parking ramp at Epic Systems Corp. The health care software development company, at 1979 Milky Way, Verona, is starting work on an even bigger solar system that will have 7,500 panels and will be able to produce up to 2.2 megawatts of electricity on sunny days.

Epic is turning its face toward the sun.

Epic Systems Corp. has added a canopy of nearly 1,300 solar panels over the exposed deck of one of two parking ramps at its Verona campus.

With a maximum capacity of 280 watts per panel, they can produce as much as 443,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, said Bruce Richards, Epic's director of facilities. "That's like 40 homes worth of energy," he said.

When the sun shines, solar power supplies up to 5 percent of the electricity used by the health care software development company's 4,300 employees.

But it's just the beginning. While the new panels were powered up in late April, Epic started work this week on a much bigger solar spread. It will encompass about 18 acres, just west of its office campus, near Country View Road, on an alfalfa field Epic owns.

The 7,500 panels will produce up to 2.2 megawatts of power on a sunny day, or about seven times as much as the current solar units. They will be mounted 13 feet high, over geothermal wells being bored into the farmland. "That way, we can still farm the land. So we can get three uses from the land," Richards said.

Epic began work on the smaller solar project last August, he said, with the first panels installed over the parking deck in November. Phase one of the bigger solar installation is expected to start operating by the end of 2011; the rest by June 2012. Richards would not disclose the cost of either project.

Universal Solar, Rockford, Ill., is providing the panels and Delta Structures, Chicago, made the geodesic truss units that hold the existing solar panels. J.H. Findorff & Son, Madison, is the general contractor and Morse Group, Beloit, is performing the electrical and engineering work.

The 2.2-megawatt solar installation would "by far be the largest solar electric generator in the state," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin.

Up to now, the biggest solar display has been 540 kilowatts of panels in the parking lot of Milwaukee Area Technical College, used to train installers, Vickerman said. Orion Energy's factory in Manitowoc and Johnson Controls, Milwaukee, each have more than 250 kilowatts of solar panels.

The solar investment ties with Epic's extensive geothermal system which heats and cools about 98 percent of the Verona campus. Eventually, Richards said, Epic wants to incorporate enough renewable energy to make up for its electrical use, currently peaking at about 8 megawatts for the growing company.

Richards and Deana Turner, Findorff project manager, were out exploring wind turbines on Friday. Turner said Epic would not erect a wind farm, but two or three turbines could be added. The idea is "still in the conceptual stage," she added.

Vickerman said Epic's alternative energy goals are "pretty lofty." Asked if other local companies should follow suit, he said, "Most companies in the city don't have as voracious an appetite for energy as Epic."