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Solar-Powered Cities

Manchester officials consider installing more solar panels while Town and Country aldermen draft a new bill regarding residential use of solar power.

From his office window in city hall, Ed Blattner, Manchester's city administrator, looks at an eight-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array on the rooftop of the public works garage.

"Maybe some day, solar power will have a bigger role in all of our lives," said Blattner, who has been an advocate for solar power in the city.

At the last board of alderman meeting, Blattner invited Dane Glueck, president of Straight Up Solar, a solar-power installation company, to give a presentation about the possibilities of installing more solar panels to city buildings. They would be installed on the rooftops of the police station's carports, therefore reducing the cost of the police department's electric bills. The police facility was built in 2009.

Both Manchester and Town and Country have considered an increase in the use of solar power, but a lack of funds may get in the way of clean energy.

Glueck's company installed the solar panels on the City of Manchester's Public Works Department garage in 2010. Then, the cost of building the panels was $44,629 with a $28,131 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Energy Center and the United States Department of Energy.

Now, Glueck estimates the cost of building a similar solar panel system on the police parking facility would cost around $100,000 with no grants available. He said installing the solar panels could save the city $30,000 in utility costs throughout 30 years.

Manchester Alderwoman Marilyn Ottenad asked fellow board members why the solar panels were not included in the initial construction of the facility.

Manchester Alderman Michael Clement said the board should consider the idea, but he is not sure if it will go beyond discussion.

"I think the Board of Aldermen will consider solar panels mounted to the tops of the police facility's car ports," Clement said. "I'm not sure what the board will ultimately decide, though...the monetary savings didn't seem that substantial to justify the significant upfront cost."

Blattner said though the benefits do not seem to offset the cost, there are other reasons why solar power would be a wise investment.

"You can't put a price on education, doing the right thing and being environmentally friendly," Blattner said.

Glueck said the cost of solar power will continue to decrease in the future, as more advanced technologies become available. Even if the board does not decide to move forward with the police building project, Glueck said he sees every discussion as a chance to raise awareness in the city about the benefits of solar power.

"Each one of these discussions is an opportunity to engage and educate the community," Glueck said.

Tom Welch, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy, said the federal government is striving to make solar energy more affordable.

"The department has high hopes for solar (energy)," Welch said.

The Department of Energy currently has several grant and funding opportunities available, and can be researched in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. The current funding, however, is available to residents and businesses—not local governments.

One local resident who has taken the initiative to go green with solar is Joe Gira of Town and Country. Gira hired Straight Up Solar to install solar panels in his backyard in April 2010. However, for Gira, going green was not easy.

Before construction started, one of Gira's neighbor's complained about the aesthetics of the solar panels to the Town and Country Board of Aldermen. The process was delayed several months before Gira was able to obtain his permit, due to the city's lack of guidelines when it came to solar power.

This situation prompted Town and Country officials to consider drafting new laws that would establish guidelines as to how a resident can go about installing both solar and wind energy systems without disturbing the look and feel of the city.

"We really didn't have any guidelines," said Town and Country Alderman Phil Behnen, who recently finished a draft of the bill that would address residential use of alternative energy sources.

"We had the situation with Dr. Gira come up where he wanted to put a ground solar array and we didn't have any guidelines. He went through quite a long ordeal from when he first proposed it to when it first got approved. He was really committed to the process, but somebody else could have gotten frustrated. For the next person that comes through it would be much easier," he said.

In addition, Behnen said there are clear signs solar power is becoming more popular among residents.

"I think people finally realize we have an energy problem in the country," Behnen said.

Behnen said he also thinks the City of Town and Country could consider using solar power in its own facilities.

"Like anybody else, we have been struggling to balance our budget and have been cutting back on different items," Behnen said. "I think definitely it's something worth taking a look at this year and look at how much it would cost to put panels up in city hall and Longview house and look at the payback."

In the meantime, it is still unknown whether or not more solar panels will be installed in Manchester. Either way, Glueck said he and his company will stick around and help the area become more informed of the possibilities of a solar-powered future.

"We have a real belief that solar energy will continue to grow here," Glueck said.

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