Improved technology and a little help from the Kansas Legislature convinced Jeff St. Clair that the time was right to start a solar energy business.
“It has now become affordable,” he said. “It is now viable for the mainstream.”
His business, Innovative Renewable Resource, designs and installs solar power and wind generation systems and also works on “green” construction projects.
St. Clair was in the prefabricated construction business from 1975 to 2012, including more than a decade as owner of Central Kansas Truss. He also owned St. Clair Design, a drafting and design service.
His first venture into green power was putting wind generators and solar panels on his house and barn outside Valley Center.
“I had done two projects of my own with both solar and wind power, and just with the research I did on my own saw the advantages (compared) to ‘brown power’ with all the coal and natural gas,” he said. “Just in the last five or six years, the costs have gone down so much that it really makes it feasible right now. Technology has come around.”
The devices supply about 75 percent of his family’s household power, he said.
Before going into the renewable energy business, he waited for state lawmakers to approve legislation that required utilities to credit customers for excess power the customers generate. That happened in 2009.
“During the day when we’re generating more power than we’re using – the meter’s spinning backwards – we build up a stockpile that’s put back on the grid,” he said. “Then at night, when you’re not generating any, you use what you’re credited.”
Utilities are required to credit up to 100 percent of a customer’s usage. Despite the law, St. Clair said, Kansas remains far behind what many other states are doing to promote renewable energy, and even further behind many European countries.
With tax credits, he said, the systems can pay for themselves in as little as five or six years. The technology is even more cost effective when used on new houses and commercial buildings, he said.
His company can help customers apply for rebates, utility interconnections and government grants related to renewable energy.
For some customers, environmental concerns are at least as important as financial considerations.
“For a lot of people, it makes a difference how power is generated,” St. Clair said. “This is a completely renewable, clean energy.”