Go Solar with Grow Solar STL

As we look to the future, solar power is one of the most promising energy sources. It’s efficient, it’s renewable, and St. Louis gets more than enough sunlight to be an ideal location.

Perhaps the most significant downside of solar power is the cost of installation, which tends to be higher than other energy options. But the future is bright for St. Louis—the Grow Solar St. Louis program, which just launched this August, aims to make solar power more affordable and accessible for property owners in the area.

Grow Solar St. Louis will offer free solar education sessions and the opportunity to purchase through a group, which significantly decreases the cost of solar installations through volume purchasing. The program is supported by the Missouri Botanical Garden, Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), and Washington University. The bulk solar group purchase program is available to residents and small businesses in St. Louis City and County. The education sessions, called “Solar Power Hours,” are open to all.

A family poses with their new solar panels. Photo provided by Grow Solar St. Louis.

“All electric utilities are making changes to what they use for fuel,” says Glenda Abney, Director of Sustainability and the EarthWays Center at the Garden. “We really want to applaud the utilities for as far as they have come, but even if they use scrubbers and do everything they can to keep coal clean, it’s still the burning of coal, which ends up negatively impacting soil and water. So if you want to think about what you can do to be better for the environment, to be better for your pocketbook, and to be better for your health, it’s a good idea to find a way to diversify the power that you use.” Here in St. Louis, we don’t have many options for water power, geothermal is complicated and expensive to install, and we don’t get enough wind to produce consistent power—but we do get plenty of sun.

“If you want to think about what you can do to be better for the environment, to be better for your pocketbook, and to be better for your health, it’s a good idea to find a way to diversify the power that you use.”

Glenda Abney, Director of EarthWays Center for sustainability

Most people are aware of the positive benefits of solar power, but figuring out how to turn that awareness into action can be overwhelming. “Going solar can be complicated,” Abney says. “Some people say to us that it’s confusion that has kept them from moving forward. So one of the real benefits of this program is that we’ve done all that investigation work for them.” The goal of the Solar Power Hours is to clear up all that confusion in just one hour. These free sessions will include a crash course on the ins and outs of solar power and a time for questions. “There’s a huge demand for information about solar,” says Peter Murphy, Solar Program Manager for MREA, “and folks are learning that it’s no longer an inaccessible technology of the future, but rather it’s available to them right now.” Grow Solar STL aims to transform what feels like a futuristic daydream into a tangible reality.

An example of a home solar installation. Photo provided by Grow Solar St. Louis.

The Power Hours will also provide attendees with the chance to talk to representatives from local business StraightUp Solar, who will be doing the installations. “There are all kinds of different details that the program will help you with,” Abney says. “For example, if you live in Clayton, there’s an architect review board that has to approve all the solars that go up in Clayton. Well, StraightUp Solar knows all that and will take care of it for you. So you don’t have to worry about complications like that because we are working with a trusted local company who has been working in the area for a long time.” The StraightUp Solar representatives will also be able to provide expert assessments of your home’s potential free of charge. They will tell you right then and there whether your property is viable for solar installation. If it is, the next step is to have them visit your home for a hands-on assessment, which also doesn’t cost you anything. It’s only when you decide you want to move forward and sign a contract to be part of the group buy program that you have to pay for their services. “You can come, not sign a thing, and walk away–it’s no big deal,” Abney says. All applicants to the group buy program are required to attend a Solar Power Hour.

Staff at the Missouri Botanical Garden demonstrates the potential of solar energy by cooking s’mores in solar ovens for visitors to the Green Living Festival. Photo by Demi

On top of the group discount, interested property owners will have the opportunity to take advantage of a competitive bid process as well as state and federal tax incentives. Altogether, the program will likely prove to be the best and cheapest opportunity in the near future for St. Louisans to go solar—and in many cases it is well worth it. In addition to its environmental benefits, it does pay for itself in the long run.

And those who organized the program purposefully picked a time when costs and benefits are at a sweet spot for solar installation. The cost of solar has been coming down, and Ameren Missouri offers rebates; however, the tax credit, which is currently at 30%, is scheduled to start dropping. Beginning next year, the tax credit begins to step down, first to 26%, then the following year to 22%. “We want to say now is the time to do this before it steps down to be even lower,” Abney says. “In the next year you should be strongly considering doing this if you’ve ever wanted to do it before.”

Solar panels on the roof of the Garden’s Commerce Bank Center for Science Education building, home of the EarthWays Center. Photo by Steve Frank.

The more interest the public shows in renewable energy sources, the more pressure there will be for fuel and utility companies to provide those options. Currently, the vast majority of Missouri’s power comes from coal burning and nuclear power plants. “This is not going to be a fast change,” Abney says. “It took a long time to establish the systems the way they are now, and it’s going to take a long time for them to be shifted back.”

She mentions a conference that she attended years ago where the then-CEO of ExxonMobil spoke. “He said, ‘Our job is not to produce petroleum, our job is to produce fuel for you. And we will do that with whatever is the best source.’ So, really, what that drills home is that this is so much about what the public decides they’re going to ask for and support. The companies will shift based on what we ask for.”

“Solar power has become public demand, but I believe that we could increase public demand even more…The companies will shift based on what we ask for.”

Glenda Abney, Director of EarthWays Center for sustainability

All St. Louis City and County residents are eligible to apply to be a part of the program providing they attend one of the Solar Power Hours. A complete list of the times and locations of all the Solar Power Hours can be found here. The program’s website includes a sign-up form on which area residents and business owners can elect to receive updates, estimates, and more information. November 15, 2019 is the deadline to apply for participation in the program. 

Kristina Schall DeYong
Digital Media Specialist

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