Ogle, Lee, Winnebago solar tours a success

This is the third year the Illinois Renewable Energy Association has co-sponsored the annual solar tour in Illinois. Attendance was at an all-time high with more than 130 visitors to the Ogle, Lee, and Winnebago sites. Participants are increasingly knowledgeable about renewable energy. Many attended the Illinois Renewable Energy Fair and plan on attending it again in August 2004. The majority indicated they learned about the tours through The Rock River Times. Other sources included local newspapers and Northern Public Radio. This year’s tours included several new stops. One is the Bob Akers residence near Mt. Morris. Akers has a variety of small installations including a corn furnace, a solar electric installation, a wind generator, and a solar hot water system for a swimming pool. He has a mechanical bent and enjoys slowly increasing his energy independence. Another site belongs to Bruce and Joyce Papiech of Sublette, owners of Forever Power. The have a 50 KW solar electric system, the state’s largest. They are interested in commercial applications of renewable energy and are planning on building a wind farm in Lee County. Several new solar electric installations in the area were not included in this year’s tour but may become a part of next year’s event: five homes and the Eswood school in Lindenwood. Other systems under consideration should substantially increase our sites for next year. The diversity of renewable installations in the area is increasing. A home under construction near the energy fair site will include solar hot water heating, a trombe wall, a wind generator and solar electric panels. We hope to include it in next year’s tour. One woman on the tour was particularly interested in meeting another woman with a solar electric system and backup power. She was trying to assess whether she was up to adding another technological device to her responsibilities as a home owner. Our experience with our pv system has been uneventful, similar to owning a refrigerator or car. Very few of us attempt to repair these items, but rely on a competent service provider. The same is true of a pv system. If it malfunctions and shuts down, it is time to call a service provider. Battery backup requires periodically checking battery water levels and overcharging them to prevent an accumulation of sulfur on the plates, which shortens their lives. While the concept of solar electricity is exciting, its performance is uneventful. Aur Beck, who installs solar electric systems in southern Illinois, has had customers insist on solar trackers as visual reminders that they are actually generating electricity from the sun. While technical competence is required to design, install and service a solar electric system, living with it does not. The major burden facing a potential user is the high initial cost of the system, about $8,500 for an installed, grid-tied 1 kilowatt system. The owner pays this initial cost and must wait several months to receive the approximately $5,000 state rebate. In effect, homeowners purchase 30 years of electrical service the year they install a pv system. It would be helpful for many people to have access to a low cost loan to spread the cost of the system over time. The loan could be repaid from savings on electric bills. Real signs of progress in acceptance of renewable energy sources are emerging in our area. The solar tours help to familiarize the public with renewable energy. We wish to express our gratitude to Dan Woodford, Dave Merrill, Bob Akers, Melanie Madsen, Jim Kohlert and Bruce and Joyce Papiech for being a part of this year’s solar tours. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Frank Schier, owner of The Rock River Times, for his unwavering support of renewable energy.

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