417-land’s Solar Power Boom

When Derek West with Solar Energy Services began installing solar panels 10 years ago, the market was slim. Today, competition has moved in, and the 417-land market for solar power is steadily growing. To understand just how much the industry has grown in a few years, consider one of West’s recent competitors: Sunbelt Environmental Services. Sunbelt has worked in the renewable energy market for 31 years, but it expanded into solar energy in 2016. In its first year, Sunbelt installed 120 solar panels. This year, the company has contracts for 10,000 panels*. As solar continues to grow in popularity, we looked at four local solar companies to see how many feet* of panels were installed around 417-land in 2016.

Solar is steadily creeping into the commercial scene, and even whole cities are taking advantage of solar. Sunbelt’s CEO Leeroy Schaefer says the company is getting ready to install 9,400 panels, or about 15 acres, in Lebanon. That’s a drop in the well compared to the city of Nixa, which will soon be the largest solar farm in the state after it installs 56 acres of solar panels this year.

Although the technology to produce solar power dates to the 1880s, recent advancements have helped the look, efficiency and price point. Not only can solar panels produce 70 to 80 percent of a household’s energy, the cost has plummeted. “One panel used to cost around $1,200,” Schaefer says. “Now, a panel is about $250 to $300.” This year, Tesla released new glass solar panels that mimic traditional roof shingles. Needless to say, the market is red hot.

*Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the unit of measurement used in the chart above. We measured the number of feet of solar panels installed in the region in 2016.

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