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Ameren, MoBot Are Making Solar Power More Affordable For Homes, Schools And Nonprofits

A worker installing a solar panel.
Ameren Missouri
New programs this fall are designed to make solar power generation more affordable to residents and nonprofits.

Two recently launched programs in Missouri aim to lower cost barriers for residents, nonprofits and businesses that want access to solar energy and to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Ameren Missouri began taking applications today for its $14 million Neighborhood Solar program. Under the program, Ameren will pay the cost of installing and maintaining solar panels for up to seven schools, nonprofits or community organizations.

The Missouri Botanical Garden and Washington University also recently began offering St. Louis and St. Louis County residents discounted rates for installing panels on their properties.

Given the success of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Grow Solar program in other states, it’s a good time to offer it in St. Louis, said Glenda Abney, director of the garden’s EarthWays Center. 

“We wanted to bring it to the St. Louis area when we felt the utility rebates, the tax credits and the interest [from] the public came together,” Abney said. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasted in January that wind and solar energy will become the fastest-growing sources of electricity generation in the country over the next two years. 

Multiple utility companies in the Midwest have committed to numerous projects to advance renewable energy and announced plans to retire their coal-fired facilities. Ameren Missouri is trying to reach a goal of installing 100 megawatts of solar generation by 2027

Ameren plans to start selecting sites for the Neighborhood Solar program in November and begin installations in early 2020. The utility will choose participants based on the site’s potential to generate solar energy, provide workforce training opportunities and other factors. The organizations would receive the solar panels at no cost. 

“This allows for a number of entities that have expressed interest in solar energy to us to have access to a facility without having to front-end some of those costs,” said Matt Forck, Ameren Missouri’s vice president of community, economic development and energy solutions. 

The organizers of the Grow Solar program also recognize that the initial costs of installing solar panels can be daunting. The program this fall is holding several Solar Power Hour events, which are free seminars that provide information on government and utility rebate programs and other resources that can lower the upfront cost of generating solar for the average household.

Attending one of the events allows residents to join a program through which they can qualify for discounted rates offered by solar installer StraightUp Solar. 

“The bigger the group, the lower the cost,” Abney said. “People might get a bit of a rebate back if the program reaches certain milestones, like 50 kilowatts sold, or 100 kilowatts sold.” 

StraightUp Solar estimates that Grow Solar would save residents, in terms of their energy costs, an average of $760 a year over 25 years. 

Since the program started in August, it has signed 17 contracts that are expected to generate 94 kilowatts of electricity. 

“That translates to 168,000 pounds of carbon dioxide that we avoid [emitting] or 83,000 pounds of coal not being burned by a power plant,” said Eric Schneider, StraightUp Solar’s director of development. 

Coal remains Missouri’s primary source of electricity generation. More of the fossil fuel is burned in Missouri than any other state except for Texas, according to the EIA. But the opportunities for people and organizations to access renewable energy in the state are increasing, Abney said. 

“We can still live in a state that has a large fossil fuel-burning coal production component, you can indeed make a choice yourself to include renewables in terms of what you’re doing for your mix,” she said.

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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