Solar Panel Battle in West County

There is battle in a WestSt. LouisCounty community between those supporting clean energy, and those more concerned about a clean line of sight.  A local family’s goal of putting solar panels on their home may have the greenest of intentions, but plenty of people don’t like it.

Jim and Frances Babb own a three story colonial that is already one of the more distinctive homes in the area.  A solar project that would put dozens of solar panels on and around their home would certainly make it stand out more.   Solar panels are being encouraged by the federal government and Ameren, with tax credits and rebates.

The couple got approval from their subdivision, then went for a building permit back in November.  But that’s when Clarkson Valley officials stopped them cold, passing an ordinance requiring them to go through an even longer approval process.

“The day we’re ready with the subdivision’s approval  finally and ready to get a building permit they said time out and we have to go through all these procedures and it’s still not done,“ Babb said.

Now, weeks later, just a couple of miles from the Chesterfield City hall, which houses one of the largest solar arrays in the country, they came to a Clarkson Valley meeting to face a lot of people with objections.

The mayor told the two dozen or so assembled that safety was the reason for specifically regulating solar power here.

“Nobody is trying to persecute you or say they’re against solar panels,” Mayor Scott Douglass said, addressing the Babbs.

But several neighbors who showed up to speak made no bones about their qualms.  They think the things are ugly.

“I think it certainly does impede the values of our homes in the nearby area,” Ed Conroy said of the project.

Jim Babb begged to differ, pointing to studies in California, more solar friendly territory in his eyes, saying property values increase with the presence of panels.

But some neighbors asked, who’s property values.

Neighbor Dennis Norton said to the Babbs, “I don’t think the issue among the people here is the value of your property as much as the value of our property  which may be degraded as a result of looking at a panel that’s  not aesthetically pleasing.”

After nearly two hours of debate, the city’s planning and zoning board voted 4-1 to recommend approval of the project.  But the Babb’s aren’t done jumping through hoops.  They still need approval from the full board of aldermen.

It’s a debate you should get used to hearing about, because solar panels are becoming more and more affordable.  Babb will spent $70 thousand on his project, but is receiving a $50 thousand rebate from Ameren and a 30% tax credit from the federal government.

“I think in a couple of years once people realize all the incentives that are out there I think a lot of people that are gonna want to do it,” Babb said.