Trio forms new Lawrence-based solar energy company

As I prepare to take my daily dip in a vat of sunblock, I’m reminded that there’s one industry that doesn’t mind this late summer heat surge. It is the solar industry, and it’s growing in Lawrence.

A trio of area residents recently formed Lawrence-based Evergreen Energy to tap into what they say is a growing solar movement in the region.

The company, at 1021 E. 31st St., is confident that residents are going to see lots more solar panels popping up around town.

“We feel like we are getting in on the forefront of something big,” said L.D. Lawrence, a partner in the firm. “Solar is much bigger in Europe, but that is because their traditional energy costs are a lot higher.”

The industry has been heating up regionally. In Missouri, power companies, including nearby Kansas City Power & Light, have been offering a significant rebate to property owners who install solar power. According to Lawrence and a few websites, Kansas City Power & Light has been offering a $2,000-per-kilowatt rebate on systems, with a maximum rebate of up to $50,000 for a property owner. My understanding is that the rebate program came about as part of a statewide ballot initiative that established a renewable energy portfolio standard. As part of that renewable energy plan, investor-owned utilities were required to create a solar rebate program. But based on what I’ve read, the rebate program is beginning to wind down. I’m not sure what its future holds in Missouri.

But it does appear that it spurred a significant amount of solar energy installations. In 2011, KCP&L paid $2.6 million in rebates. By 2012 that amount had grown to $12.5 million, according to figures provided by KCP&L.

Evergreen officials said they don’t see a similar rebate program in Kansas’ future, at least not in the near term.

“We have met with Westar officials, but bottom-line, they feel like solar is not as cost-effective to invest in compared to the wind energy options in the state,” Lawrence said. “It seems like all their alternative energy investments are going into wind energy right now.”

But Greg Powers, another partner in the firm, said wind energy potential in Lawrence is pretty limited.

“We also do wind energy work, but the bigger market for wind is probably going to be west of Topeka,” Powers said.

(By the way, did you notice that a Lawrence power company has partners with the last name of Lawrence and the last name of Powers. The third partner is area resident Steve Vogel. I guess he didn’t get the memo, or was unwilling to change his name to Solar.)

But Evergreen officials said they hope Kansas eventually offers more solar incentives, preferably a combination of statewide and local incentives. Evergreen supports a request made by Lawrence-based Cromwell Environmental that the city reduce its building permit fees for solar panel installation. The request is still under review at City Hall.

But even without Missouri-like incentives (that is a confusing phrase to a Jayhawker), Evergreen officials still think the market for solar installations will be robust.

“It is just a matter of educating people,” Lawrence said. “People don’t realize how cheap it has become. Costs on solar equipment have gone down by about 80 percent over the last five years.”

Now, if only sunblock prices would go down.