Solar transformation assisted by CCED

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Steve and Dr. Michelle Dikkers switched to solar energy to power their home, and were grateful for the assistance they received from the Clayton County Energy District. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

A chance encounter while dining out was the catalyst that prompted Steve and Dr. Michele Dikkers to install a solar energy system for their home. Steve, a retired Clayton Ridge science teacher, has always been interested in energy and land conservation. 

"My wife and I were dining out in Dubuque and the waitress approached our table and asked, 'Where was the popcorn ball invented?" he began.

Dikkers always used his quirky sense of humor in the classroom. "When I taught school, I often asked my students random trivia questions," he explained. "I told the waitress 'Peru' and she looked back at the kitchen door and I saw Jarid Grinstead, one of my former students." 

Jarid and the former science teacher struck up a conversation. "I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was working at the restaurant part time, and for a company called Blue Sky Solar," Dikkers told The Press. "Our conversation sparked my curiosity – mainly the money I could save switching to solar energy." 

Dikkers shared the information with Michele's father who was notorious for saving money. His father-in-law immediately hired Blue Sky Solar and switched to solar energy. "I started doing my own research, and got estimates from two other companies and Blue Sky Solar had the lowest bid," he commented. "

Dikkers was up-front about the couple's energy use. "We use a lot of electricity," he admitted. "When we built our home I had it in the back of my mind to take advantage of solar energy." 

Clayton County Energy District

Steve and Michele were grateful for all the support and direction they received from the Clayton County Energy District (CCED) "When we applied for our permits there were some issues," he recalled. "Jim Osterhaus had set his system up under a different administration. They had a very casual agreement." 

CCED Program Manager Joleen Jansen assisted the City of Guttenberg to codify and set up a policy for community members who wished to utilize solar energy. "Joleen was extremely helpful in creating a policy that was fair to the city electric utility and us," he said. "At the time, a television campaign paid for by the companies that were selling electricity was attempting to discourage the use of solar energy."  Clean energy savings

"The CCED's mission is to implement an inclusive transition to locally owned clean energy," Jansen pointed out. "Inclusive means ensuring all community members are included and that they know the good news that clean energy transition is available in simple steps like LED lighting, weatherization steps, insulation, and bigger steps like converting to heat pump technology and going solar. We are committed to relieving energy burden!"

She went on to say, "Jim Osterhaus and I are excited about the opportunity for the ratepayers of the Guttenberg Municipal Utility (GMU). Because it is a municipal utility, it has the power or liberty to make community-wide energy conservation policies that often are out of reach of customers of investor-owned utilities like Alliant Energy. For example, the GMU could make policy changes to allow one large solar array remotely serve multiple meters, or even larger ideas like building a community solar farm for Guttenberg residents who rent or don't want to take on a rooftop solar project."

She added, "We also hope the city council will consider solar-powering public infrastructure like the library, pool, wells, wastewater treatment plants, etc. This makes sense for all non-taxable entities because, with the IRA, non-taxable entities are now eligible for up to a 30% federal rebate toward the project's cost. Towns like Marquette, Monona, and Postville have already built out solar to reduce the energy cost to power public infrastructure. Volga and Elkader are also pursuing solar for their operations. When the city spends less on energy, they have more for the community."

Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque 

M.J. Smith, Senior Affiliate Advisor, of Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, shared her enthusiasm for solar energy.  "The Clayton County Energy District is helping individuals and families save money through education about energy practices," commented Smith. "These activities, which are also available to businesses, churches, and schools simply build community resilience. The Community Foundation has supported Energy Districts because we share a common mission which is to strengthen communities through wealth retention." 

She went on to say,  "For every energy dollar saved through conservation, more buying power is retained locally by that individual, family or organization. I would love to think that young families who save on energy can more easily put money away for a child’s college fund. Over time, this habit just makes families more resilient. Joleen and her board of volunteers are a conduit to the know-how for this to happen." 

Inflation Reduction Act

M.J. weighed in on the Inflation Reduction Act. "Regarding the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, there are new financial incentives for everything from energy-smart appliances to building materials to solar installations to electric vehicles.  How will local residents be empowered and educated to capture these incentives? The Energy District will again have the shortcuts and be our teacher.” 

The CCED is also planning to post fact sheets, GMU rebate schedules, and storyboards in the Municipal Building and the Guttenberg Public Library. 

For additional information contact Joleen Jansen at or online at

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