Thursday, Feb. 07 2013 5:34PM
An ‘economic no brainer’
LS businesses pushing forward with solar energy systems
By Toriano Porter
The lowering price of solar energy systems has made the alternative energy an option for many companies in Lee’s Summit.
What started off as an expensive alternative energy source has now become so affordable for businesses that some believe the investment will pay for itself in just as matter of years.
To wit: One of Lee’s Summit’s largest employers – John Knox Village – installed six 25-kilowatt systems (146 kilowatts in total) in early 2012. At the time, the installation was the largest in the Kansas City area and one of the largest in the state. It is currently still among the largest systems in both categories.
• R&D Leverage is currently in the process of installing 216 kilowatts of solar power on seven of their buildings. Once completed, this will also be one of the largest in the Kansas City area, as well as in the state.
• Dave Cross Motors installed a 25-kilowatt solar-energy system on a new construction of theirs in December of last year as have Summit Collision Center and Don Kahan motors. The installations join the sustainable efforts of car dealerships around the city and an overall trend towards sustainability in the auto industry itself.
• High Tech Polishing installed a 25-kilowatt solar-energy system at their facility in 2011, and in 2012, installed an additional 25-kilowatt system at High Tech Tools, a new business on their property
“Our electric bill is $2 million a year here,” said Brian Peterson, director of operations and development at John Knox Village. “We’re trying anything we can do to try to save on electricity. We’re doing all kinds of things you can think of. One night I was watching television and they had a thing on the news about this company called Brightergy. They kind of cracked the code on the rebate you get from the federal government. Basically it’s $60,000 if you put one of these 25 kw (systems) on your property.
“Now, the hard part was you had to buy the equipment. Well, Brightergy figured out a way to do the install and purchase the equipment itself and then lease them to non-profits, which we are one. They put them on your roof for 20 years, they maintain them and you pay a lease to them for 20 years. They get the rebate on these, but then you get the savings that comes into your property. The lease price doesn’t go up for 20 years, but we know the electricity rates will go up in 20 years. Right now, we have six of them on our buildings. It all comes down to I’m saving $700 or $800 a month on my utility bill.”
“We heard a lot about solar years ago, but it just didn’t seem like it was cost-efficient,” added Rex Luchtel, owner of High Tech. “The money side of it didn’t make sense. The thing that hit home for me was the grant money coming from the federal government. It made sense, but what got me really interested was there was a comment they made about the price for a kilowatt of energy right now is ‘X’ amount of money.
“You start to ask yourself how much is that going to be in 10 years. The answer is it’s probably going to be more. What it cost you to produce solar is going to remain the same this year, next year and in 10 years. When you start doing the math and thinking ahead of that, it starts making sense. We decided to pull the string on it two years ago and we liked the system. Then we started a new business last year (High Tech Tools) and one of the things we decide was we were going to get a system for that business, too. It’s a nice way to subsidize our power bill.”
Jeff Risley, chief marketing officer for Brightergy, a clean-energy company responsible for the solar energy push in Lee’s Summit, said the company’s foothold in Lee’s Summit has led the way for other businesses in the metro area to take note. With an emphasis on a reduction in businesses’ electric bills, these solar-power systems are becoming more of a norm within the Lee’s Summit business community.
“We’ve actually been doing a lot more work in Lee’s Summit the last two years,” Risley said. “In fact, things have been really growing pretty quickly. We have installed 14 different systems in Lee’s Summit for six different clients. The clients that we are working with right now…by the time we are finished this year we will have 18 different solar systems installed in Lee’s Summit. That represents quite a bit of kilowatt energy that will be going on there in solar.
“There are several reasons. No. 1, the economics for investing in a solar system right now are the best they’ve ever been; they’re really incredible. The average cost of a solar system has decreased over 40 percent since January 2010. When you add that with rising electrical utility rates – which are going up basically five percent annually over the last ten years – you basically have a capital improvement project that will pay for itself within two to three years. It’s a real economic no-brainer because that energy creates fixed electrical rates for that business for the next 20, 30 years. Economics are awesome, you get fixed energy prices for the life of the system and on top of that, you’re doing something good (for the environment).”