Renewable Energy is Unlimited. Unfortunately, So is Ignorance.

March 11, 2014


St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

CLARKSON VALLEY • The fuss over the solar panels remains baffling to Jim and Frances Babb.

Their home sits 360 feet from the street and is surrounded by sycamore, oak and Bradford pear trees. In the summer, you can hardly see it from the curb.

Nevertheless, for the past two years, the couple’s Victorian Queen Anne-style home has been a flash point in the battle over solar energy in St. Louis’ suburbs.

The saga is scheduled to resume on Tuesday when the Babbs ask a Cole County judge to hold Clarkson Valley in contempt of court for failing to issue them permits for 100 solar panels on their property.

The Babbs want the city fined $1,000 for each day it fails to issue the permits.

In June, 2012, Circuit Judge Daniel Green ordered the city to issue the Babbs a building and special use permit so they could build their solar project, calling the city’s actions “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and an abuse of discretion.” The suit was heard in Cole County because the Missouri Public Service Commission, another defendant, is situated there.

If Clarkson Valley failed to issue the permits, Green wrote, the Babbs could begin construction anyway, and that’s what the couple did.

 The city, meanwhile, appealed Green’s order, only to be rebuffed by a three-judge panel at the Missouri Court of Appeals, which in November, unanimously affirmed Green’s decision.

But the city still didn’t issue permits. Instead, Clarkson Valley sent the couple a letter in January, requesting they fill out a new permit application, as required by a recent city ordinance that regulates solar energy, according to a motion filed by the Babbs’ lawyer.

A few weeks a later, the city revised its position, and in another letter said the Babbs only needed to schedule a city inspection of their project.

Clarkson Valley Mayor Scott Douglass said the city wants to ensure the project is safe and meets fire codes.

“We read the appeals court decision, which says they can keep their panels but have to go by the local building code,” Douglass said. “We are not against solar panels.”

But the Babbs’ lawyer, Stephen G. Jeffery, said the project has already been inspected by St. Louis County, as well as Ameren Missouri.

The wording in Green’s decision “is crystal clear,” Jeffery said. “It says, ‘The city shall issue the permits.’”

The solar power system cost the Babbs about $100,000, but they received a $50,000 rebate from Ameren, as well as a 30 percent federal tax credit, to offset expenses. The Babbs have 52 panels mounted on their roof and an additional 48 on the ground. During some months, their electric bills are zero, they said.

“If it wasn’t for the attorney’s fees, it would have paid for itself,” Jim Babb said.

Even if the Babbs prevail in court on Tuesday, they could face another legal battle within their subdivision: Kehrs Mill Estates.

The Babbs said subdivision trustees mailed a ballot to homeowners recently for a vote on a special assessment to fund litigation against them. The subdivision had previously signed off on the panels.

Kehrs Mill chairman Artie Ahrens said any vote probably wouldn’t take place until May. He declined to answer additional questions and then hung up the phone.

For the past few years, solar energy in the suburbs has pitted subdivision aesthetics against environmental sensibilities and the desire for cheap electricity.

It’s led a handful of cities to consider legislation that mostly regulate where panels can be placed, for appearance sake.

Jeffery said he represents clients in Wildwood and Jefferson County engaged in conflicts over solar energy.

Clarkson Valley, Douglass said, has also received two more solar applications since the Babbs first requested permits in 2011. One of those projects is under construction. The other application is pending, Douglass said.

The Babbs ordeal has turned Frances Babb into a advocate. She’s lobbied state legislators over the past year for Senate Bill 579, which bars homeowners associations from prohibiting solar energy.

The Babbs said their struggle for solar power has been worthwhile but not without hardship.

“We are pioneers in our community,” Frances Babb said. “It’s really hard because we feel as though we have done a good thing.”

22 Responses to “Renewable Energy is Unlimited. Unfortunately, So is Ignorance.”

  1. omnologos Says:

    100 panels? How much energy do these people need? (Asking)

    • Found that number to be quite high myself. Especially as they had hoped it covered 90% of their energy use. I see from pics of their house (you can google it) that they have a garage with room for two cars as well. Perhaps they have two Teslas inside there? 😉

      • omnologos Says:

        For my own home am dreaming of the time when solar energy will provide me 8kW but using a very limited area…then I’ll make the site brighter than Sirius, maybe add water features like dancing fountains…

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Omno is B-a-a-a-a-a-a-c-k! And applying the full force of that strange way of thinking called Omnologic to this post by asking an inane question.

      (Answering) Who cares how much these people “need”?. They can sell the excess into the grid and help cut down the amount of fossil fuel that must be burned to supply electricity to their less enlightened neighbors.

      The point of this whole post is the IGNORANCE of those who are giving them a hard time over the “appearance” of their installation. Their house is 360 feet off the road. If they do things in MO like we do here in VA, their lot is most likely square (or close to it), the house is probably a bit closer to the front lot line than the back line, so they may be 500 feet off the back lot line.

      That sounds like a 10 ACRE lot they live on. That’s big enough for 7 or 8 football fields. 100 solar panels is a substantial number, but would take up at most perhaps 1/10 of a football field. And it’s wooded. And…..are you listening, Omno?

      Unless the folks out there are worried about what it looks like from planes flying overhead (prettier than a Wal-Mart parking lot), they’ve got no beef with the Babbs.

      • omnologos Says:

        Can’t you ever focus on a point…what do people do with 100 solar panels? I even added “asking” next to it …it indicates the question is made without any polemics attached to it.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Agreed. No polemics, just Omnologic. I will repeat what I said with (Answering)—-your question is inane and off topic. The POINT of the post is “ignorance”, and I DID focus on that (there is some irony associated with you telling ME to focus, but you don’t do irony, so you’ll miss it).

      • dumboldguy Says:

        JCL’s comment prompted me to do a google myself, and I found a picture of their house taken from the street—-except that you can’t see it and it’s a red circle drawn on the woods. I was right about the size of the lot, the trees are mature, and the terrain is rolling as well.

        Also found this tidbit about the cost of the case.

        “The city budget that just ended on June 30 saw revenues of $791,432. The city’s 2013-14 budget is expecting revenues of $819,529”.

        “In 14 months the city has spent $84,517 on the solar panel case and legal bills are still coming in. That is more than 10% of the annual budget. That comes out to $6,036 a month and counting for a house that is so far off of the street it is impossible to see for six months a year”.

        10% is a big chunk of $$$ in a small town. So, the forces of ignorance are probably going to have to raise taxes on everyone in town to pay for their fiasco. Time for a recall election.

  2. jimbills Says:

    This highlights a significant problem with rapid transition scenarios – nimbyism. And this is solar – it’s not even wind power.

    • jimbills Says:

      Article from two years ago:

      “We just don’t think it looks right,” said Mayor Scott Douglass.


      HOAs in wealthy neighborhoods are some of the most insane organizations in existence. These people have more money than 90% of Americans and they still worry about the color choice of a neighbor painting their door.

      In this case, solar panels don’t fit in with the local décor. Of course, coal plants don’t fit in with the local décor, too, but these people are rich. They can just move to several acre lots. If a neighbor can do something crazy like put up solar panels, they think, “Oh! My sheltered home has been compromised! Why did I move here?”

      • dumboldguy Says:

        You are right about HOA’s and the “insanity” they breed. One here in VA took a very old codger to task for having his own flagpole in his front yard and flying the American flag. Something about the pole was too tall by a few inches or the pole was a few inches too close to the street or his flag was a bit oversized—-some really big transgression of THE HOA RULES.

        Turns out he was a Medal of Honor recipient, and he politely told them to F*** off when they knocked on his door brandishing THE HOA RULES. When they threatened court action and the word got out, they heard from MANY individual vets and vets organizations. Mainly about how the vet’s pole and flag and his house would be the only things left standing in their “community” if they didn’t back off. They did, and last I heard, he was still running the flag up every morning.

        PS If they could figure out how to color solar panels some more earth-tone green or brown shades, and make them less shiny, they’d perhaps “blend” better.

      • andrewfez Says:

        HOA’s attract folks that find ecstasy in wielding power over others, without otherwise owning any qualifications to do so.

        At my town home complex i’ve been shot down for wanting to put some ceramic based window film on my south facing windows, because of a fear that it would make the windows too mirror-like, dark, etc. In reality, using the ceramic technology, the windows would have the same amount of grey as what’s already presenting on the windows that have screens attached to them. There’s already aesthetic anarchy happening here with people buying new low e windows in different styles when our local power company was handing out rebates for energy star windows.

        My solution: cardboard-up the upstairs windows and throw on several sets of curtains. Tape aluminum foil in parts of the bottom floors windows (easily done away with upon complaints). Sew in solar screen inside the original metal window screening so the HOA can’t see it. Put up planter boxes with trellises in front of some of the windows, then line the back of the trellises with solar screen. The shading causes a good 10 or 15F difference using an IR gun on the window sills.

        The sad thing is the south facing of the building is not accessible to 60% of the people in my building and the other 40% don’t hangout back there as there is a wall holding the next condo’s walkway immediately out the door, after 4 or 5 feet of patio spacing. Each patio is partitioned off with doors that only get used a few times a year by the random plumber or serviceman, further making it an unpleasant hangout.

        Now they want to paint the building. I’ve just submitted a bunch of info on ‘cool’ paints (IR reflective paints that meet California’s new codes for new construction regarding the reflectivity index) and cool roofs to them, but the person in charge of the whole thing is more interested in having a variety of colors to choose from. They’ve even got some dark grey samples up on the building which if picked will invite even more summer heat load on the structure. It’s almost as if these folks get off on playing barbie doll dress up, HGTV style. They are not heeding the warnings of UCLA’s climatologist telling us the valley is just going to keep getting hotter (we already have 105 to 110F spells in the summer). They don’t seemed to be worried about the urban heat island effect.

        I haven’t tested them yet about car chargers, but i’m sure that will be a losing battle too.

        I’ve already battled them against last year’s tomato plants on the southern patio.

    • jimbills Says:

      Another issue with rapid transition is the level of subsidization. The Babbs wouldn’t have done this without a 50% subsidy from Ameren and a 30% tax rebate from the federal government.

      Ameren is no longer subsidizing solar:

      The rebate is due to expire in 2 years, and a weakened version to replace it is in President Obama’s 2015 budget:

  3. climatebob Says:

    My total electricity bill this month was $0.74 from twelve panels and no subsidies. I buy electricity at $0.20 and sell it at $0.10 with a few add ons for line charges. Best investment I have made.

  4. […] 2014/03/11: PSinclair: Renewable Energy is Unlimited. Unfortunately, So is Ignorance. […]

  5. […] other competitor, state by state, look for claims about “solar cell syndrome”, and “lowered property values”.  It’s a […]

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