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Botanical Garden's New Solar Program Brings Green Power To Homes, Businesses

Missouri Botanical Garden's Glenda Abney (at left) and StraightUp Solar's Eric Schneider joined Monday's program to discuss a pilot project for St Louis residents that helps pool their buying power for discounts on solar panels.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

While the sun’s rays were at full effect this August, the Missouri Botanical Garden launched its Grow Solar St. Louis program for St. Louis-area home and business owners. In partnership with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Washington University, property owners throughout the city and county can participate in this pilot program to pool their buying power for discounts on solar panels.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske was joined by Glenda Abney, director of the Garden’s EarthWays Center, to delve into why the initiative was started and how interested St. Louisans can use green energy to power their homes. 

Also joining the discussion was Eric D. Schneider, director of business development at StraightUp Solar, the St. Louis-based company that partnered with the garden to provide and install the solar panels. 

Even if it’s a cloudy day, “the sun always shines, [and] the sun always rises — hopefully, unless there's an apocalypse,” Schneider joked on Monday’s program. 

He explained that the solar panels would still generate energy and store it effectively by taking the sun’s direct current and turning it into an alternate current that ties into the grid, which ties into the building. 

The installation panels are costly up front — ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 — “but there are great financing options that are out there,” Abney said. 

“If you come to the Solar Power Hours, you will hear about those,” he said. “The Clean Energy Credit Union is one that StraightUp Solar interacts with … because indeed, people want to look at ways to have some kind of a way to assist with an up front.”

Schneider also recommended PACE St. Louis, “a program in St. Louis County and in St. Louis City that allows you to finance a solar array via your property taxes,” he said. 

“It's called a voluntary tax assessment that stays with the property. So when you sell your home, the next owner picks up the remainder of the cost of the solar array, and those loans go out 20 years.”

Valley Park resident Aliz Smith is among the 18 residents who have completed their contracts with StraightUp Solar. Her solar panels will be installed on Oct. 10. 

“My thinking was, I have to pay an electric bill no matter what, right? So ... I'm going to use my money in my savings and pay for that. But then I also save every month. Let's say I save $50 a month [from an electricity bill], that’s $600 a year,” Smith said. 

“I could put that money in my savings or pay for my loan. And eventually I won't have that, I won’t have to pay anything. And I'm just going to enjoy the free energy the sun provides.”

A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that solar installations will likely increase a home’s value by $15,000. 

Grow Solar offers free educational sessions, dubbed “Solar Power Hours,” to interested residents who want to learn more about how solar installations help the environment and the ins and outs of getting panels installed on properties. 

Related Event

What: Solar Power Hour
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019
Where: Schlafly Bottleworks (7260 Southwest Ave, Maplewood, Mo. 63143)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
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