Solar energy: A case we shouldn't have to make, but we'll try anyway

This article was originally published by PROSOCO

So often it seems like the economy and the environment are at odds.

I'm reminded of this battle all the time.

I just heard a story on the radio about how Americans' current aversion to risk is hurting the economy. We're not relocating as much as we used to, or opening up new businesses. The economy needs those things to thrive. I thought: "But aren't those things detrimental to the environment in many little ways?"

I've read about how nations like the U.S. and Japan desperately need people to have more babies in order to remain economically solvent. That's diametrically opposite from my impression that having children is about the worst thing you can do to the environment.

The attempt to reconcile these two seemingly counter forces remains difficult, at best.

But sometimes, we get a moment of clarity, when doing good is not a zero-sum exercise where it's either here or there, but never both.

Renewable energy can benefit both.

One of PROSOCO's sister companies, Build SMART, had solar panels installed on its roof recently, and last month we celebrated many of the successes made possible by this harvester of the sun.

We realized that doing something good for the business's bottom line could also be massively beneficial to the environment and community.

We learned that the 100 kW solar array will save $14,000 in the first year, and $592,000 over 25 years. A return on investment will be realized within just six years of installation. Those are just the "pros" for the business.

What about the economy?

According to the Clean Energy Business Council, the increase in demand for solar installations has led to a staggering rise in new jobs - an 86 percent increase in solar-related jobs over the last five years, to be exact. Overall, the solar industry supports nearly 800,000 jobs and pays more than $50 billion in salaries, wages and benefits.

What about the environment?

With an estimated production of 143,780 kWh annually, the Build SMART building will rely that much less on fossil-fueled utilities. The state and community will benefit from that drop of peak power demand on the electric utility too. The environmental impact of the panels over 25 years is estimated to equate to 45.4 acres of trees planted.

We're not alone in this discovery.

Kansas Secretary of Commerce Antonio Soave delivers remarks at PROSOCO's Solar Works celebration on April 18, 2017. Photo courtesy PROSOCO

Kansas Secretary of Commerce Antonio Soave delivers remarks at PROSOCO's Solar Works celebration on April 18, 2017. Photo courtesy PROSOCO

Our Solar Works celebration last month attracted state and local legislators, business developers, community leaders and others interested in renewable energy.

Kansas Secretary of Commerce Antonio Soave delivered the keynote address at the event, where he praised the efforts of Build SMART for tapping into a natural energy source, but said there was plenty more work to be done in the state.

Over the last 10 years, $10 billion has been invested in wind energy in Kansas. Solar energy is not getting nearly as much traction.

Our state's potential is untapped. Kansas is the fifth state in the nation in terms of potential to generate solar energy, yet we rank 43rd in the country in installed solar capacity.

Soave pointed to other examples in Kansas leading the solar way, such as an IKEA in Merriam, Kan., a solar farm in south-central Kansas, and now Build SMART, which we were surprised (and kind of disappointed) to learn boasts the fifth-largest array in the state.

We need more businesses to realize the triple-win available through solar energy. That was the primary intent of our event - spread the word and show other businesses how simple it really can be.

As PROSOCO and Build SMART CEO and President David Boyer said: "Throughout the process, we realized that it's really not as difficult or cost-prohibitive as we'd anticipated, and that's the lesson we want to share with our neighbors, community and elected officials. Regardless of whether you live in a state that's business-friendly for renewable energy or not, solar energy can benefit your bottom line, your community and the environment. That's what we hope to demonstrate."

PROSOCO and Build SMART CEO and President David Boyer (left) speaks with Kansas Secretary of Commerce Antonio Soave (right) speak at the Solar Works celebration on April 18, 2017. Photo courtesy PROSOCO.

PROSOCO and Build SMART CEO and President David Boyer (left) speaks with Kansas Secretary of Commerce Antonio Soave (right) speak at the Solar Works celebration on April 18, 2017. Photo courtesy PROSOCO.