Weather Forecast


Sunshine means savings for home builder

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BAXTER — Neal Lesmeister’s smile on Tuesday was as bright as the sunshine that hit the roof of his home on Earth Day. The sun’s powerful rays enhanced the view from the Mississippi River ridge where his home is located but also meant money in the bank for the Baxter home builder.

Six months ago, Lesmeister and his sons installed solar panels on the south-facing roof of his 10-year-old home. Lesmeister, who owns WeatherShield Homes Inc., is sold on solar energy. He estimates he’ll save about $2,000 a year in electricity costs. Lesmeister said he installed more panels than he would need to meet electricity costs at his house because he plans to one day buy a plug-in hybrid car.

The cost of installing solar panels can run anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 he said. He expects the project at his home to pay for itself in about 10 years. Lesmeister has a grid tie-in with Crow Wing Cooperative Power and Light. Had his home been in Brainerd he said he would have qualified for a rebate which would have cut the payback time in half.

The price of installing solar panels has dropped recently, making it much more affordable than it was a decade ago when Lesmeister first built his home.

“At that time it was way too much money,” Lesmeister said. “It’s very reasonable now.”

The home builder compared the initial investment to buying car, which could be an acquisition of $10,000 to $15,0000 that’s usually paid off over time.

“Nobody has any trouble laying that out,” he said.

The price for installing solar panels may go up soon, he said, noting that a federal tax credit that was designed to encourage growth in the industry and paid for 30 percent of projects may expire in 2016.

The solar panels, he said, are sturdy. He said they’ll hold up to handle golf ball size hail without serious damage.

A homeowner doesn’t have to live in sunny Arizona or Texas in order to benefit from solar energy, according to Lesmeister. Germany, he said, which leads the world in producing solar energy, has 10 to 15 percent less sun power than Minnesota.

A former exploration geologist who worked for an oil company for 20 years, Lesmeister, 57, grew up in the Morris area and has lived in the Brainerd area for about 15 years. He received his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Minnesota.

His solar panels take up about 440 square feet on top of his roof. They are situated 22 degrees off the optimum location for sunshine but, he said, that results in only degradation of power that’s less than 1 percent.

While not everyone is convinced that climate change is real, Lesmeister is a believer. He’s convinced people have to end their reliance on fossil fuels. He said solar power can be the answer.

“This is the only thing that’s going to save our butts,” he said.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or Follow on Twitter at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860