Earth and sun: Deneen Potter goes solar

Sustainability is already second nature at Deneen Pottery, the stoneware workshop on Endicott Street in the Creative Enterprise Zone. But now the company's president, Niles Deneen, is making the leap to solar power. As of this week, the flat roof has sprouted 400 solar panels in south-facing rows. Workers from Midway-based All Energy Solar are now running the wires that will link the system to the Xcel Energy grid. An estimated 130 daily kilowatt-hours will amount to “about half of our mugs being solar-fired,” Niles says. With this type of arrangement, the solar-producing customer sells electricity into the grid and those kilowatt-hours are credited on its Xcel bill, often at an advantageous rate. (If you're considering it yourself, visit info sources like the MN Solar Energy Industries Association and Grow Solar.)

The pottery produces upwards of 2,500 hand-thrown stoneware mugs every day, all customized with a Glaze-Engraved medallion. Deneen shops local for its materials: ten tons of clay a week come from local distributors— Minnesota Clay or Continental Clay. Countless other supplies are sourced from Noll Hardware on Raymond Avenue (another dog-friendly enterprise). The shop's production areas have LED lighting. The stoneware is shipped in recycled-fiber cartons and packed in starch-based peanuts that can be reused or melted away in water. These mugs are truly earth-friendly.

Deneen also has a diverse, stable workforce of 85, with a notably low turnover rate. More than 24 pairs of hands touch every mug: from mixing, cutting, and throwing the clay to adding the medallions and handles, firing, glazing, firing again, fine-sanding, and boxing for shipment. 

Started in a Lowertown studio in 1972 by Niles's parents, Peter and Mary Deneen, the pottery has evolved through several stages. It found its sweet spot with the customized mugs, which it sells in quantity to corporate buyers, small businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, and national and state parks.  Individual buyers can also place an order online.

For its community values, the pottery was honored in April with a leadership award from the Midway Chamber of Commerce: read more in the current Midway-Como Monitor.  

   Niles Deneen checks in with the All Energy Solar installers busy on the roof of the pottery on Endicott Street. 

 Niles Deneen checks in with the All Energy Solar installers busy on the roof of the pottery on Endicott Street. 

Julie James