KAHOKA, Mo. -- The Ball family of Kahoka is in a business that emphasizes horsepower. But lately, they've been capitalizing on solar power.
Carla and Kenney Ball and their twin sons, Keith and Jarrod, are the owners and operators of Ball Volvo and GMC Trucks, which has been selling high-horsepower vehicles for many years.
However, the family has been getting lots of attention ever since Carla Ball took charge of installing an elaborate solar array outside the dealership.
The array features more than 300 connected solar panels displayed on five large racks. Each rack is aimed south to capture solar energy offered at no cost by the sun.
According to Carla Ball, the solar array was designed to generate all the electricity needed to operate the family's business -- and then some.
So far, the system has been doing the job.
"We are generating way more power than we are using," she said. The excess electricity generated by the solar array is not being wasted, either. The Balls are redirecting the electricity back into the local grid through a "net metering" arrangement with the city of Kahoka and, in return, is receiving a credit on the dealership's utility bill.
"That's worked out pretty well," Ball said.
Ball said the system was designed to generate 107 percent of the company's historical electric needs. At that rate, the system should pay for itself in an estimated 5.7 years, according to Ball.
Ball didn't want to say how much the system cost to install, but she said significant upfront costs are involved. However, once the initial investment is paid off through electrical savings, that essentially means free energy after that point.
Ball said she was inspired to erect the array after seeing a similar system in the Kirksville area. "It really piqued my interest, so I started asking questions," she said.
She was especially interested in determining the long-range cost effectiveness of a solar array.
"I'm always looking for ways to control expenses and bring us into a self-sufficient way of handling things," she said. "And one of the things that has always been in the forefront has been power issues and green energy."
She thought a solar array not only could save money but also reduce the company's environmental footprint.
After doing a multitude of calculations, Ball decided to go ahead with the solar array project. The system was installed this fall by OTG Solar of Macon, but several Kahoka firms also played a role in preparing the site and setting it up.
The initial four-rack system went online in September, then a fifth rack was added several weeks ago.
Thanks to all the sunlight and good weather in recent weeks, the array has been producing lots of electricty.
"If you went out there today (on an exceptionally sunny afternoon), the whole array would be humming," Ball said. "It sounds like a bunch of bees."
The calculations used to determine the cost-benefit ratio for installing the solar array was based on the Kahoka area receiving an average of 41/2 hours of direct sunlight each day during the course of a year, with frequent cloudy conditions taken into consideration.
"Right now it is generating way more than we're using because we've had so much sunlight," Ball said. "Temperature doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference with these things. It's all about sunlight."
She expects less production during winter months when the sun is shining less frequently than in the summer.?Ball said she's been getting lots of inquiries from area residents about the solar array.
"Right now this is the only big array that I know of in Clark County, but I don't expect it to be the last, by any means," she said.
"Solar arrays aren't new. They've been around for a long time. But it's becoming more affordable and more widespread each year."