By MICHAEL FREEMAN (WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – Sandy Irle, owner of the Café Blackadder building downtown, did not wait to take advantage of the three new city ordinances that allow the use of alternative energy systems in Warrensburg.
She purchased four 240-watt solar panels from Mike Shaw of CMO Solar, and the power-generating panels are being installed on the roof this week at 121 N. Holden St.
The Warrensburg City Council approved the new wind and solar codes in May, but the panels at the Café Blackadder are a longtime coming for both Irle and Shaw. In fact, both have been interested in solar energy since the 1970s.
“I had always wanted to do something like this for the building, but it had never been easy or affordable enough,” Irle said.
Shaw said advances in technology have reduced the cost of solar panels and allow buyers to install as many or as few as they like at an affordable price. He said installing the panels will cost Irle about $4,000 with some other expenses added.
“The panels are guaranteed against hail and wind up to 110 miles per hour,” Shaw said, striking the face of a panel with his knuckles.
At current energy prices, he explained, the panels should start to become profitable after seven years. By 25 years, the solar panels should lose no more than 10 percent of their effectiveness.
Shaw said spring and fall are the best seasons for solar energy because the intense heat of summer can decrease a panel’s efficiency.
In January, Shaw gave a presentation to the City Council to endorse the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program, which is a Missouri initiative designed to help property owners finance clean energy systems.
The PACE program will pay for the installation of a solar or wind energy system, said Barbara Carroll, director of community development in Warrensburg. However, the property owner must pay back the costs through a property tax assessment every year over a period of time.
Carroll said Warrensburg is not directly affiliated with the PACE program, but one of the new city ordinances allows local citizens to participate.
Carroll said the city of Warrensburg wrote the solar and wind ordinances with a theme of balance in mind.
“We’re trying to encourage the placement of the systems while still protecting the aesthetics of our neighborhoods,” she said. “We wanted to make sure it made sense technically, that we weren’t proposing to adopt something that made it impossible to install a system. We didn’t want to put some type of regulation in place that would make installing solar panels useless.”
As outlined in the new solar panel ordinance, all solar energy systems must be installed to guarantee safety and cannot be placed in front or side yards. Ground-mounted systems must be placed on a concrete pad so weeds and tall grass are not a nuisance.
Roof-mounted systems may extend only so far, depending on the pitch of the roof. To begin installation, a building permit is required.
Finding ways to stay green is not a new principle at the Café Blackadder. When Irle renovated the building three years ago, she salvaged everything that could be reused.
“The shelves, the cedar on the walls, the wood on the counters… it was all repurposed,” Irle said. “Even the paper towels in the bathroom are post-consumer waste recycled paper.”
Irle said she is excited about the panels and hopes that others follow in her footsteps.
“I want people to realize that you can make a very small initial investment to get started,” she said.
Shaw said he saves 40 percent on his electric bill as a result of the 16 panels installed on the roof of his home.
“Every year, the interest in solar panels multiplies by 10,” Shaw said.
To those who are skeptical, he suggests they think about the installation costs as an investment, not an expense.
“I tell people that this is an investment you can always go touch,” he said. “If you put your money in the stock market, it could be gone the next day.”