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South County Times – Living Green With Solar Energy

by Don Corrigan – Editor in Chief

12/14/2012 – Santa Claus will have to step a bit more gingerly on area roofs this year. That’s because some of those roofs have an array of recently-installed solar panels to generate electricity for the homes under those roofs.

I would prefer that Santa step around the solar panels, although the installers did step on them and there was no damage done,” said Jim Stroup, who lives in the 1100 block of Teakwood Drive near Concord Village. “The elves can step on them, they don’t weigh a lot. Reindeer do need to stay off of the solar panels.”

Jim and Judy Stroup decided to have MicroGrid Energy, a Clayton-based solar installer and energy efficiency company, install panels earlier this year. The installation has dramatically reduced their electric bills and sometimes their excess capacity goes to the Ameren grid.

It’s amazing how much it cuts down on your bills and how economical it is to install

“It’s an early Christmas gift,” said Jim Stroup. “This past month, I spent more on beer and pistachios than I did on gas and electric. And I am not a big drinker. It’s amazing how much it cuts down on your bills and how economical it is to install.”

The Stroups got more than a little help for their solar system’s costs, including a 30 percent federal tax credit, a solar renewable energy credit from Ameren, as well as a rebate from the utility company. With all that help, the system will pay for itself with the reduced electric bills in about five and one-half years.

Stroup said the amount of energy produced does depend on the amount of sunlight to his roof. He said that St. Louis now gets close to 90 percent of the amount of sunlight that Miami, Fla., receives. He said that figure surprises many people.

“The system is a lot like people – it has its good days and bad days, all depending on sunlight,” explained Jim Stroup. “I am what is called ‘grid-tied,’ which means I am tied into Ameren’s system. I don’t need to store electricity in rechargeable batteries for cloudy days and at night.

“One of the stipulations is that you still have to buy some energy from Ameren,” added Stroup. “I can take no more than 87 percent of my electricity from my solar panels, and I will easily be able to get 87 percent of my electricity needs from my system.”

What that means in terms of electrical bills is pretty impressive. In 2011, Stroup paid Ameren $882.60 for his home’s electricity. In a full year with his system at 87 percent of needed output, he estimated that his solar array will cover $767.86 of that electricity bill.

Robb Dove with Microgrid Solar holds one of the solar panels being installed at the home of Jim and Judy Stroup near Concord Village. photo by Ursula Ruhl

Robb Dove with Microgrid Solar holds one of the solar panels being installed at the home of Jim and Judy Stroup near Concord Village. photo by Ursula Ruhl

Watch Out For Grinches 

Stroup and his wife are big believers in living green and shifting to renewables from a fossil fuel energy culture. He said he’s a bit worried the “Grinches” in Congress and in the state legislature will try to throw roadblocks in the way of going to solar and renewables in Missouri and in the United States.

“I am really concerned that Grover Norquist and all of his Grinches in Congress will try to block America from moving forward and going green,” said Stroup. “China and much of Europe are already ahead of us on this technology. Do we want small thinking to put us further behind?”

Kirkwood resident Cindy Bambini, business development manager for Brightergy solar installers in Webster Groves, said she also is concerned about what lawmakers may do to trip up a fledgling industry that now is making inroads on green energy.

“The voters in Missouri really helped get all this started when almost 70 percent of them voted for Prop C in 2008 on renewable energy,” said Bambini. “Some state legislators have been trying to dismantle Prop C and get rid of the incentives to go green ever since.

“They need to think about the jobs and the green energy that have been created by this,” said Bambini. “There are those in Congress who also want to keep us on fossil fuels. The truth is, I am just too busy to watch what they do and to worry about them.”

Bambini said Brightergy is more focused on solar panel business for institutional buildings and for commercial customers. She said Brightergy’s installations are “on the grid,” so that customers can sell excess electricity back to the utility provider.

“We are doing some big projects now,” said Bambini. “Locally we are doing full arrays at North Middle, Hough, North Glendale, Westchester and more in the Kirkwood School District,” said Bambini. “We are halfway through installations at Parkway. We are doing a number of churches in Webster, Kirkwood and Crestwood.”

Judy and Jim Stroup gave themselves an early Christmas by having solar energy panels installed on their home. photo by Ursula Ruhl

Judy and Jim Stroup gave themselves an early Christmas by having solar energy panels installed on their home. photo by Ursula Ruhl

Good Solar Neighbors 

Judy Stroup said she and Jim talked to the neighbors about the roof installation to make sure there were no concerns about “the look” of an installation. She said they installed it on the back roof and that there have been no complaints.

“The panels are dark and just not that noticeable,” said Judy Stroup. “What amazes me is that even when it’s a cloudy day, some electricity is produced. We have a connection to our computer, so we can monitor what it is doing any time of day.

“When my husband retired, we sat down and asked how are we going to live more efficiently,” she added. “I grew up on a farm where caring about nature and efficiency were always foremost. So this solar system was a natural – it made a lot of sense for us.”

So, if we have a white Christmas in St. Louis – and snow covers the panels – will solar still make sense?

Jim Stroup said, “let it snow, let it snow,” because the panel surfaces are dark and slick. It will be hard for ice and snow to get a grip.

“In Montana and Colorado, some roofs have heater systems to keep snow off the panels,” he said. “We don’t get their kind of snow and our temperatures have been a bit warmer lately.”

The Stroups said the evidence for man-made global warming is all around us. No one needs to look at photos of ice melting in Greenland and the Arctic to know our climate is changing and it’s a big problem, according to the Stroups.

“I worked as a machinist for 45 years in the oil industry, so it is time for me to do some penance,” said Jim Stroup. “The way I look at it, we only have one earth and we darn well better start taking care of it.

“I am trying to do my part,” he said. “When my grandkids grow up, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say I tried to do something about this global warming mess. I did not ignore or deny there’s a problem.”