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Pettis County exploring solar options

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Pettis County is looking to go solar.


That is the word from Pettis County Presiding Commissioner John Meehan, who will receive a recommendation Thursday from a six-member citizens advisory committee formed last fall that has met regularly to gather information, talk with installation companies and review the best options for a system to meet the energy needs of county government.


“What had started for me as a concept or an idea a year ago became a matter of pulling the right group of people together to explore what options might be available,” Meehan said. “I decided the best way to approach this is to have a citizens advisory committee and ask people to serve on that committee that were interested and had some knowledge in this area.”


Ultimately, Meehan selected David Albers, State Fair Community College Renewable Energy Technology program coordinator; Lynn Shafer, a retired civil engineer; Eldon Kreisel, a retired Pettis County school superintendent; Dave Rouchka, a local electrical engineer; Pettis County Maintenance Supervisor Bret Manuel; and James Theisen, the county’s information technology director, to serve on the committee.


The group received bids at the


beginning of April, and are expected to make a recommendation to the Pettis County Commission next week.


Meehan said the move was inspired in part by the efforts of past commissions “who made similar cost-Asavings improvements to our facilities” such as the installation of a ground source heating/cooling system, thermal windows and efficient lighting systems.


However, the move was also inspired by individuals, such as Shafer, who installed a system on his own home three years ago, as well as a growing number of local businesses including 10th & Thompson Car Wash, Inter-State Studios, Warehouse Tire, Ditzfeld Transfer, Yeager’s Cycle, Bryant Motors, Truman Inn and others who have installed solar electric systems as a means of reducing energy costs.


“I think that is ideal if Pettis County can see businesses within our communities where projects like this are working and saving money and reducing the carbon footprint. It is time for our government to explore those options,” Meehan said.


The committee ultimately settled on a plan to install three 25-kilowatt systems on county facilities, with one planned for the courthouse, one for the jail and one for the county’s Public Safety Building.


While the systems will not supply all of the needs for those facilities, they are the maximum size allowed under a $50,000 rebate program offered through Kansas City Power & Light.


“We could put larger units on these facilities, but the rebate is only for up to a 25-kilowatt system, so anything beyond that becomes more expensive for the county,” Meehan said.


Although the total cost of the individual systems won’t be known until a final bid package is approved, Meehan said that once the rebate is account for, the county will incur a cost of between $5,000 and $25,000.


Shafer, whose 5-kilowatt system was one of the first to be installed in the county, said prices have fallen dramatically since he chose to go solar, but as the committee has gathered information from local businesses many report they are “are looking at about a three-year payout.”


“I had to pay more, but I keep detailed records of this and I know exactly what kind of rate of return I am getting on that investment. Right now I am getting about 5 percent return, which is a lot better than having that money in the bank,” Shafer said. “Today a homeowner with the decrease in price could probably get double that or more.”


Shafer said over the past three years, his system has been maintenance-free and actually produces energy at a slightly better rate than the projections offered to him by the installer, Lawrence, Kan.-based Cromwell Electric, which has been involved in a number of other Pettis County solar projects.


“My system produced 7,200 kilowatt hours the first and second year and 7,800 kilowatt hours the third year. Basically you can say it produces about 600 kilowatt hours a month on average,” Shafer said.


Meehan and Shafer said one of the most common questions is how the systems stand up to the sometimes powerful storm systems known to pass through our area.


“Every time we asked people who have it installed, they are very satisfied how it stands up to any kind of hail or strong winds or storms,” Meehan said.


Shafer added that the systems clearly do better during the long daylight hours through the summer months and noted that “it doesn’t like snow.”


“It won’t do anything when it has a few inches of snow on it. It’s like throwing a blanket over it,” Shafer said.


However, with an average 25-year lifespan on the systems and steadily increasing utility rates, Meehan expects the county to enjoy “a relatively quick return on the investment” and years of service.


“This is an exciting project. There are so many benefits associated with it,” Meehan said. “We will be reaping the benefits and saving county funds for many years to come.”


Meehan hopes to make a formal public announcement on April 22 to coincide with Earth Day, and expects installation, if approved, to be completed by this fall.


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