Solar energy shining for local business

The move toward solar energy has become a major goal for the United States and Illinois, with Governor JB Pritzker pushing for an expansion of solar and renewable energy sources over the last few years.

One business based here in Monroe County recently hopped onto this solar wave.

Budnick Converting in Columbia, which focuses in converting a variety of adhesive products, installed a solar array when the business moved not far from its original building off Admiral Weinel Boulevard to a new location at 340 Parkway Drive, according to the company’s quality manager Christy Wegmann.

She explained that the move came about as the company was looking to have a substantially larger footprint – from 48,000 square feet to 112,000 square feet.

Having looked into solar incentives, Budnick wound up installing an array and, as Wegmann said, now pays roughly the same in energy bills that it did at the previous smaller location.

“Obviously our taxes were going to increase, our building costs were going to increase,” Wegmann said. “Our expenses, our bills for the energy are almost the same here as they were in a 48,000 square foot building. We have, obviously, more square footage, more light, more machines, more people using everything. To us, it’s been 3-4 year returns on investment to save money and attempt to go green.”

Five years ago, the Republic-Times reported about the installation of 836 solar panels on the roof of MAR Graphics in Valmeyer.

EFS Energy in St. Louis set up the 300 kilowatt, or 300,000 watt, system for MAR that spans some 30,000 square feet.  

MAR owners said then that their business would receive solar renewable energy credits when its system produces a certain amount of renewable energy.

Monroe County has seen a steady increase in solar installations, according to Keith Jones with Monroe County Electric Cooperative.

While he didn’t provide any specific figures, Jones explained that a key reason for the expansion of solar installations is the various incentives available for individuals and businesses looking to install.

Along with a federal tax credit, Illinois residents can take advantage of Illinois Shines, an incentive program which makes use of renewable energy credits.

These RECs, according to Jones, are paid for by energy providers like Ameren.

“They collect a small fee from their rate payers and that goes into this big fund,” Jones said. “The state is then going out and they’re using the funds to buy the green energy from all of these smaller installs.”

As Jones explained, these incentives can provide substantial savings on solar installation projects, with some installers having a majority of their project paid for and the rest later effectively paid for in savings as the solar array benefits their electric bill.

“When you see people putting these up everywhere, the reason that’s happening is because at least two thirds and generally even more of those systems is being covered between the state credit and the federal tax incentive,” Jones said. “When you look at that, it’s kind of an investment. Do you want to put your money into renewable energy and save money in the future?”

Jones noted that, in addition to the handful of local businesses that have installed a solar array, a number of individuals have installed small solar arrays recently.

The Solar Energy Industries Association – the national trade association for the solar energy industry – shows strong growth in national solar installation over the last decade, with 100,000 installations for utility from 2010-2023 as well as nearly 35,000 residential installations and 18,000 commercial installations.

SEIA puts the number of individuals working in the solar industry nationwide at 263,000, with the bulk of those jobs in the realm of installation and development.

On the monetary side, the solar industry generated over $36 billion in private investment, according to SEIA.

Further, the cost to install solar has dropped year by year since 2010, though this nationwide trend seems to have waned and even notably reversed in the last few years – particularly for residential installations – seemingly due to supply chain and other issues prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

SEIA also offers a look into the growth of solar energy at the state level, with Illinois ranking 15th in terms of solar installations.

The state saw its biggest boom in installations in 2021 thanks to several hundred utility installations. Per SEIA, there were little to no utility installations in prior years, though they have become a bulk of installations in the state since.

Additionally, SEIA indicates the total monetary investment in solar energy throughout the state is $4.2 billion and 1.88 percent of Illinois’ electricity comes from solar.

For more on Illinois Shines and how to participate in that program, visit illinoisshines.com.

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Andrew Unverferth

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