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James Tinjum’s hands ache with blisters. His arms have peculiar tanlines.

After nearly two weeks of bicycling through the farmland and state bike trails of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, Tinjum, a UW-Madison professor of renewable energy, said he’s ready to make it home and spend some time off his bike.

But he knew the blisters, awkward tanlines and hours of peddling through Midwestern landscapes would be in store when he set off on his #BikeTheSun tour; he did nearly the same thing when he rode for #BikeTheWind.

One year after biking in support of wind power, Tinjum, originally from Stanley, is wrapping up a two-week ride across four states to raise awareness and funds for the Solar Para Ninos project, a mission hosted by the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers without Borders aimed at providing solar panels and energy to a non-profit shelter for children leaving abusive homes in Puerto Rico.

The project and Tinjum’s ride has corporate and organizational backing from groups like WPPI Energy and the Puerto Rico Relief Fund of South Central Wisconsin. The project has a goal of raising $100,000 by the end of 2018, with an ultimate fundraising goal of more than $145,000.

He plans to make it to Tomah Wednesday evening, evaluate his next steps (or peddles) and hopes to make it home to Madison by Thursday evening.

Tinjum had spent the previous night with his sister, avoiding rainstorms in the afternoon and getting a home-cooked meal. At that point, Tinjum estimated he had biked 1,100 miles of his nearly 1,300-mile journey.

The Solar Para Niños project is also relying on the work and support of about 30 students, Tinjum said, adding that the students are given an opportunity to apply their sustainable passions to a project that propels the world forward, while also preparing for their own future.

“The students that I work with at UW-Madison, they’re coming in and they’re talking about sustainability… global warming, so this is one type of project where students can participate and give back.”

Throughout the biking tour, Tinjum is stopping at 50 solar energy sites, learning about each site’s function and the region’s reliance on them. Wednesday morning, he observed the field in Lake Hallie — built in conjunction with Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, Dairyland Energy and SoCore Energy.

Tinjum said Minnesota, in particular, is providing consumers an easy way to access solar energy by offering solar gardens. Customers can use the purchase "plots" for their energy source, he said.

But nearly a year after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the Latin American island and left it without power for months, Puerto Rico still struggles with energy, Tinjum said.

The home, Hogar Albergue para Ninos Jesus de Nazaret, located in Cerro Las Mesas, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, pays about $1,000 each month to power the shelter. A maximum of 14 children aging from newborns to 11 years old live at the house at one time, and each one has lived through physical or sexual abuse, Tinjum said.

Tinjum discovered the shelter through his fiancé, who had a friend from law school whose parents began the shelter.

For two months after Maria hit, the shelter lived without power. In some of the island’s more rural region, that figure was more like nine months, Tinjum said. Faced with the highest energy rates in the United States and less than half of the energy offerings in Puerto Rico relying on solar, the need for assistance is heightened for the shelter.

Instead of having to pay for energy to power the shelter, Tinjum said the savings can be funneled into more education and resources for the children living in the shelter. The home can also use the funds it makes from selling extra energy its panels produce.

And creating energy in Puerto Rico using a source as consistent as the sun is an obvious connection, Tinjum said.

“If we can make solar work here in the Chippewa Valley,” Tinjum said as he stood outside the solar panel field in Lake Hallie Wednesday morning, preparing to embark on the next leg of his trip. “We can definitely make solar work in Puerto Rico.”

Fundraising for the panels is one goal — installing them is another.

The area undergoes an assessment for solar capacity. The structure system and the roof are evaluated along with calibrations to ensure high winds or dangerous weather won't damage the power source. Then full electrical and energy design is done, Tinjum said.

Once completed and if another hurricane like Maria were to hit, the shelter sustain itself on power for at least 72 hours, Tinjum said, giving it an extra buffer of time with power.

If the project can work for Hogar Alberque Para Ninos, there's a chance it could be applied to other non-profits and shelters as well, Tinjum said.

"A successful project would be a model system," Tinjum said, adding that other organizations could possibly use this model to propel their self-sufficiency forward.

To donate to the Solar Para Niños project, visit

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Samantha Stetzer is a community and city reporter for the Chippewa Herald. Contact her via email at or call her at 715-738-1610.

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