City of Columbia gathers ideas on adding solar panels downtown

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COLUMBIA - Columbia is considering adding solar panels to the 8th and Cherry parking garage roof. The city will hold an open house on Wednesday to review the proposed project and gather public feedback. 

"It should produce about 10,000 kilowatt hours. So that's about the same that an average residential electric customer would use in one year," Connie Kacprowicz, spokes person for Columbia Water and Light, said.

The solar panels will produce an estimated 100 to 150 kilowatts of power. They will be located on the roof.

"This particular garage is structurally capable of handling the loading [of the solar panels]. So it's an opportunity for a more green source of energy solar panels on the structure that is already in place," Richard Stone, engineering manager of Columbia's Public Works, said.

The funding for this project is from the City of Columbia's general revenue fund and the parking utility.

"As far as the cost of renewable energy, within that mandate we have to have an increase in amounts of renewable energy, it does have a cost cap. So it cannot raise the rates of our electric customers by more than 3 percent," Kacprowicz said.

The city sent letters to nearby property and business owners to provide relative information about the solar panels and invite them to the open house Monday. 

Businesses were split on the idea of the possiblity of rates going up to accommodate the solar panels.

"Anytime you have to pay more we would mind. Anytime you're trying to do something like this you will hope to see a reduction," Michael Kelly, the Tiger Hotel's director operation, said.

At least one business owner is willing to see rates rise.

"If it's not that much higher, then yes, I think that's well worth the cost. To spend a little bit more but to get your energy from a clean source that you are able to help the environment, I think that's a good thing," Matt Jenne, owner of Addison's restaurant, said.

Jenne said he could accept a rate hike in the range of 10 to 15 percent.

Kacprowicz said the project is still in an initial stage and still needs public input. She also said Water and Light will decide the cost and other details at a later date.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated for clarity and to add context from other downtown businesses.]