Columbia urged to boost use of solar power

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Columbia’s Water and Light Department is proposing a new program that would increase the city’s investment in solar power and encourage residents and businesses to use the alternative energy source.

At the end of 2012, solar energy made up two-hundredths of 1 percent of the city’s renewable energy portfolio, which involves about 8 percent of all of the city’s energy sources. Although December numbers for 2013 aren’t yet available, renewables continue to be about 8 percent of Columbia’s energy portfolio, said Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for the Water and Light Department.

The department has proposed spending $500,000 this fiscal year on a solar program that would allow customers who can’t install panels on their own properties to invest in solar from a centralized array and get a credit on their utility bills.

The department also has proposed that the city spend $200,000 on city-owned solar power in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Kacprowicz said that amount would pay for the installation of 100 kilowatts of solar.

The city hasn’t installed a solar panel on any of its property since November 2012. But interest in solar is growing, with eight Columbia residents and businesses installing solar arrays in fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30, Kacprowicz said. From fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2012, seven customers installed solar arrays.

In a letter issued to the Columbia City Council earlier this month, the Water and Light Advisory Board suggested the city install 100 kilowatts of solar capacity each year. It urged the city to move quickly to take advantage of federal tax credit programs that allow businesses and homeowners to claim up to 30 percent of their expenditures on solar, wind and geothermal systems. The credits are scheduled to expire or be reduced significantly by 2017.

Hank Ottinger, a member of the advisory board, said even if the city can’t meet all goals for solar power, it would at least increase its use.

“If we fall a little short, so be it,” Ottinger said. “But I think anyone who takes an objective, broad look at solar will see it’s growing exponentially.”

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