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Wildwood man sparked solar fight, still waits to use panels

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WILDWOOD — Four years ago, Randy Bueckendorf sparked a controversy that has mostly run its course. He installed solar panels at his house in hopes of reducing, or perhaps erasing, his electric bill.

It’s easy to understand why he wanted to reduce his electric expenses. Bueckendorf lives on a sprawling 5-acre property along picturesque Wild Horse Creek Road.

He bought the property in 1990, before Wildwood was an incorporated city. Over time, he’s added about 4,000 square feet to his home. With Ameren Missouri and the state and federal governments offering incentives to add solar to homes, Bueckendorf, who owns a commercial construction company, decided it was a good idea.

He hired a contractor to do the work. The contractor got a county permit and all the appropriate approvals, except one. He forgot to ask permission from the city of Wildwood.

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Randy Bueckendorf

Randy Bueckendorf stands in front of his Wildwood home, which has solar panels above the garage. The panels haven’t been connected to the grid because of a dispute with the city of Wildwood.

The solar panels include some on the roof, facing the road, and a ground array next to the garage, sort of like the panels you can see at a solar farm along Interstate 70.

To this day, Bueckendorf kicks himself for not getting all the approvals first. As a contractor, he knows better. “I look like an idiot,” he told me.

What happened next was similar to the experience of a lot of Wildwood residents the past couple of years. I’ve written about a few of them. They ran into opposition from former Mayor Jim Bowlin and some aldermen, including the one in Bueckendorf’s area, Larry Brost.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Aldermen voted against approving Bueckendorf’s already-installed solar panels. He was cited in Wildwood Municipal Court for an ordinance violation.

So there the panels have sat, not hooked up to the electrical grid, as Bueckendorf and his attorney try to determine what to do.

The municipal case was put on hold while the solar controversy played out in the Board of Aldermen. Meanwhile, solar advocates, from residents to the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association (MOSEIA), waged an education campaign. They beat back a bad ordinance that would have been a de-facto ban on front-facing solar panels. A community survey showed Wildwood residents in favor of solar.

The city backed down and passed a compromise ordinance. Most of the people I wrote about last year got their solar projects approved. MOSEIA gave its 2023 advocate of the year award to Wildwood citizens.

“They slowed the train down. It was a real learning process,” says Jon Dolan, the executive director of the solar trade organization. “They have done so much for the cause of clean energy. A compromise was born, and it reflects the best of the process.”

Under the new solar ordinance in Wildwood, residents no longer need to file for a conditional-use permit and go before the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Alderman. Instead, they file for a permit with city planning staff. The process is much cleaner and appears to be working, says new Mayor Joe Garritano.

“It expedites things,” Garritano says. “People who want solar now have more options.”

But installing ground arrays, like Bueckendorf did, is still not allowed. He planted trees around the array to shield it from the road. He said his neighbors haven’t complained.

But now he’s planning to take it down, hoping the panels on the roof can be approved. The back of Bueckendorf’s house is surrounded by tall trees, so without the ground array, he might not produce enough solar energy to power the entire home.

But he hopes he can soon connect his panels to the grid and reap some benefits after a controversy he helped kick off four years ago.

“It’s just so unfortunate” that there was a battle, Bueckendorf says. “In 10 years, everybody is going to have solar.”

Read More: Wildwood man sparked solar fight, still waits to use panels

2024-06-21 14:45:00

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