Two O’Fallon homes will be among the 130 homes and businesses state-wide showing off their solar arrays on the 11th annual 2017 Illinois Solar Tour this weekend.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, a free, self-guided tour will give a closer peek at the solar technology — some will be outdoor tours only, but others will offer inside viewing to see how harnessing the sun’s energy translates to generating power and heat. The tour opens the door for participants to ask questions and learn about the costs, processes, as well as the economic and environmental benefits of going solar.
“Solar in Illinois is poised for even more growth after the passing of new legislation (SB 2814), and the tour is a great way to learn how to take advantage of the opportunities this affords,” Nicola Brown, of the Illinois chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, the organization sponsoring the tour.
Richard & Johann Ellerbrake
Address: 866 Old Enterprise Farms St., Lebanon
Richard and Johann Ellerbrake followed their dreams of country living in the 1972 when they moved to the outskirts of O’Fallon to the 120-acre Old Enterprise Farm, located between O’Fallon and Lebanon, with four families who had common ties.
“Our son, Stephen, lives next door with his family. Five generations have called it home. Our family, in particular, has thrived on producing food and energy locally,” Richard said.
The Ellerbrakes have free-range chickens, gardens, a green house and more than 85 panels of solar arrays — some on the garage roof and the rest in their yard. Living a sustainable lifestyle is “very important” to the couple, who are on their fourth electric car.
“Self-reliance as much as possible, using natural resources as much as possible — both are passions,” Richard said.
The Ellerbrakes don’t just utilize solar panels for electricity, but also for hot water and to heat their green house. In the 1992, they installed nine 150-foot deep GeoThermal boreholes, of which six are being used currently.
“Reducing expense is related to good stewardship and good stewardship makes it more possible to direct resources to good causes and helping others,” Richard said.
For their 5,150-square-foot home, Richard said they have 100 percent energy savings on their electric bill, paying only two fees monthly — customer fee and meter fee, but not for the electricity itself. In fact, they contribute to the electrical grid.
“It reduces the demand on the part of Ameren to buy electricity at high rates, which means it lowers the pressure for higher costs on the whole community, because it evens out the Ameren demand. So this helps them and us and the earth,” Richard said.
Richard said the cost of their up-front solar investment was about $78,000. However, they earned money back through a 30 percent federal tax credit, to be used over a five-year period, and a 40 percent cash return quarterly, also over a period of years.
“So your out-of-pocket cost is a lot less than the total cost of the system. If you calculate what you’ve saved by not using the electricity that you generate, you’ll actually get a return. In our case, we think, it’s about a 16 percent return on the investment,” Richard said.
Homeowners or business owners who contribute to the electrical grid have special meters to track accumulated “bank energy over the course of a year,” Richard said.
“I’m grateful that Illinois has a net-metering law, because many states do not,” Richards said.
Johann said she is “excited for the tour.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to share with other people something that they may be able to do — either in the manner that we’ve done or in a different manner — so they too can have solar energy, and we are happy to discuss it with people in groups or individually,” Johann said.
Address: 816 Alexander Drive, O’Fallon
“Looking to take the edge off of our electric bill and to do it with a clean power source” is why Luke Rheaume said he had 12 solar panels installed on his roof two years ago.
Rheaume said the solar panels capture about half the electrical energy used annually for the 1,140 square-foot home.
“It’s a very good investment. It’s paying back in about eight years, and I think it’s a good way to go to save energy and save on pollution,” Rheaume said.
Rheaume said his total cost was about $14,000, which he estimates to pay off within eight years.
“April, May and October are our best months, because we don’t pull from the air conditioner, and we get good sunny days to build up solar power,” he said.
A feature that Rheaume said he likes about his solar array system is that there is an emergency shut-off outside in case of a fire. Moreover, if the power goes out, or lightning strikes near or directly to the system, it won’t be damaged, because there are lightning arresters in place and surge protectors to automatically safeguard the system, as well as the grid.
Other Metro-East Tour Stops
▪ Home of Tim Schnicker, 126 National Terrace, Collinsville
▪ OneSpace, 33 Bronze Pointe, Swansea
▪ Vision Care Associates, 4933 Benchmark Centre Drive, Swansea
▪ Home of Mike Hornitschek, 2212 Jack Nicklaus Drive, Belleville
▪ Harr Family Farms / Wall Vern Products, 7508 Triple Lakes Road, East Carondelet
▪ Wiskamp Farms, 7258 Blacksmith Shop Road, Freeburg
▪ Home of Kevin McKee, 204 Collinsville Road, Troy
▪ Home of Ron Trimmer, 106 Lenox Ave., Mitchell
▪ Home of Brian Kerr, 1411 Biscay Drive, Edwardsville
▪ Home of Cletus Garde, 2506 Vandalia St., Collinsville
▪ Home of Lee Sudlow, 135 Springer Drive, Godfrey
▪ Home of Elaine AbuSharbain, 6441 Frandsen Road, Alhambra
▪ Home of Tim Schnicker 27 Rose Court, Glen Carbon
▪ Home of Denny L. Willman, 668 Buchmiller Road, Greenville
▪ Home of Larry and Danilee Sanders, 3250 Autumn Ridge, Columbia
▪ Home of Wesley Braswell, 8527 High Meadows Drive, Columbia
For more information on any of the sites, visit www.illinoissolartour.org or www.illinoissolar.org.