Residents discuss benefits of solar energy

By Blake Spurney

NORTH NEWTON—Rodger Nugent’s electrical bills were cut by more than 60% after he installed solar panels nearly two years ago.

Nugent is one of about 10 residents in North Newton who have solar panels on their roofs. He said he was lucky in that he received the solar panels gratis from Howard Schrag. Otherwise, he said converting one’s residence to solar could be kind of expensive. He installed infrastructure underneath each panel himself, and his bills have gone from $120 per month to between $30 and $40.

“When I started this process, Evergy made it pretty weird and hard,” he said.

What changed in April 2020, however, was that the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against Evergy for charging customers who generate their own power extra fees. The court ruled that Evergy’s attempt to charge those extra fees was price discrimination.

Schrag, who lives in western Newton, said he had been using solar energy at his home for 11 years. He lives in a zero-energy home, meaning it produces sufficient energy to power his home and even his electric car. He said his power bills were only $15.53 per month for a hookup fee. One year, his system put more than two megawatts back on the grid.

“Evergy likes to take that for no cost and sell it for regular retail price,” he said. “They don’t tell you that.”

Schrag said he was a curious guy who liked to try new things. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. in animal behavior from Washington State University.

“The environment is something I quite familiar with, and the problems with it,” he said.

Schrag said it cost about $16,000 to make one’s home energy efficient, of which one can get a tax credit for 26% of the expense. He said it took about seven to eight years for the investment to pay for itself. He said the technology had improved quite a bit, and the systems supplying solar energy had warranties for 25 to 30 years. One solar panel can now provide about 400 watts of energy an hour. Besides his residence, he also installed solar panels on six rental properties in North Newton.

“We’ve gone through the figures with everybody, and we haven’t had anybody not want to go with solar,” he said about his tenants. In fact, he said his tenants rarely leave once they move into one of his properties.

Juan Coy has a different setup for the solar panels on his roof on East 26th Street. The solar panels are tied into his heating system, not the power grid.

“So we don’t use the regular furnace, which is very convenient, because it doesn’t dry out the air like the gas furnace,” he said. “The only disadvantage is the noise the fan makes when blowing air into the home.”

Coy said the panels were on the house when he and his wife bought it 16 years ago. He said he hadn’t calculated the savings on his heating bill but thought it would minimal. Still, he likes to use it when it he can.

“The sensation of heating from the sun is nice,” he said. “It feels so natural and nice.”

Schrag said his home had two different systems. Panels on his garage provide radiant heat in the winter.

Nugent said he started a small Facebook group, Solar Panel Kansans. He said he’d like all who use solar energy in the area, along with those who are interested in using, to join the group. They could share their experiences in getting started. He said he needed help from an electrician in getting started. He said he had to install an extra meter that shows how much power he puts back on the grid. That extra power during the day is used by his neighbors, and he gets credit for it.

Schrag said he thought more people would begin using solar energy and that Evergy would have to change its business model. The battery technology continues to improve, and at some point, residences will be able to store their own energy instead of needing Evergy to store extra power. He said General Motors had committed to going away from gasoline-power vehicles to all electrical within 15 years.

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