When Zachary Burton drove by the Lee’s Summit Animal Control Facility, he often noticed its prominent roof.
Burton, who will be a senior at Lee’s Summit High School, saw more than a nice building. He saw potential for saving the city money and helping the environment. He said he knew of other cities putting solar panels to use, and wondered if Lee’s Summit could do the same.
“This could be seen as a showcase for the city and can help raise public awareness of the benefits of solar electric power for Lee’s Summit,” Burton told the City Council at its June 15 meeting. “It will give the animal control department a good image because it’s using renewable energy.”
Burton got a go-ahead to continue working with the city staff to get proposals from solar companies to install a solar field to serve the building. Future contracts would still need a vote of the council.
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Burton had contacted city officials — including his own district’s councilwoman, Diane Forte — to suggest installing solar panels on the roof of the animal control facility. She put him in touch with a Lee’s Summit company, MC Power. Its employees helped him prepare a pitch to the council.
While Burton’s initial idea was to put panels on the roof, the professionals working with him suggested a ground-based system would be better and there is room for it at the facility on Hamblen Road.
The cost for the 22 kilowatt system is estimated at between $25,000 and $30,000, said Loren Williamson, of MC Power. The system would pay for itself in about 10 years, while the system’s life could be estimated at 30 to 40 years.
It would offset about 10 percent of electricity now drawn from the grid.
The savings over 30 years would be about $129,916, if electric rates rise 2 percent per year.
While initially the project targets the animal control facility, the city’s Public Works Department is also interested in seeing its results.
Nearby is its much larger maintenance building for the operations division.
“Power bills out there are quite high,” said Director of Public Works Dena Mezger. The city might want to outfit that building with solar power as well, she said.
Burton said that while his planned career is in website design, he hopes to work with an environmental company, or one that is environmentally friendly.
Forte applauded the efforts of Burton’s work in advancing a good idea. He worked hard, she said, developing his suggestion with help from the business. He started on the project last September.
“We’re behind a different city close to us; shame on us,” said Forte, referring to the Independence electric utility, which is is adding solar fields as an energy source.
City Manager Steve Arbo said the city does have solar water heating at City Hall, but otherwise the city isn’t taking advantage of the technology.
The city will be seeking vendors to bid for the project, he said.
“This is going to be a great experiment for us,” Arbo said. “And we’re going to work with Zach and teach him how bureaucracy works.”
Burton said another benefit is that it will help reduce greenhouse gases and show the city is interested in conservation.
“I’ve been an environmentalist all my life,” Burton said. “Many cities are using solar, I thought why not here?
“It will give the Animal Control Department a good image because it’s using renewable energy.”