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Grow Solar Metro East Reaches Goal, Lowering Solar Pricing

Article by: Nate Keener, Sustainability Director, Lewis and Clark Community College, nkeener@lc.edu

Grow Solar Metro East, a solar group purchasing program in its third year in the Metro East St. Louis area, is gaining momentum.

The program recently surpassed its third goal of 250 kilowatts (kW) of collective capacity and is nearing the 350 kW goal, with over 262 kW committed to date. The achievement of this benchmark triggers a 3 percent price break for all participants.

The program helps local property owners go solar through community outreach and education, and helps lower the price of solar through a volume purchase. Since Solarize Madison County/Glen Carbon in 2017 and Solarize Metro East in 2018, the program has led to the installation of over 864 kilowatts of solar power on 98 properties across Madison and St. Clair Counties. The program has educated hundreds of individuals about the financial and environmental benefits of solar power and helped people save on solar installations through volume pricing. This year, in addition to properties in Madison and St. Clair Counties, program eligibility extends to Monroe County properties.

Elisa D’Antonio, of St. Jacob, Illinois, was the first to join the program, and is among the first homeowners in the area to incorporate a Tesla Powerwall into her home’s solar array. The Powerwall, a highly anticipated innovation on battery storage for solar electricity, is now one of several battery backup options available in the Metro East market.

D’Antonio decided to invest in solar plus storage for several reasons.

“First, federal and state incentives are at a high and will be decreasing over the next several years,” she said. “Second, I share the concerns of many over my personal carbon footprint and I am always looking for ways to reduce that. Finally, although the power outages in this area are far less frequent than 13 years ago, they still occur and I like to be prepared, which has driven some of the unique design features of my system.”

Local partners including Lewis and Clark Community College, Madison County Planning and Development, Glen Carbon Cool Cities Committee and the Sierra Club have teamed up with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) to host a number of free, one-hour long, public education sessions about solar called Solar Power Hours. This educational effort is also endorsed by villages of East Alton, Glen Carbon, Godfrey, Hamel and Maryville, and cities of Alton, Belleville, Collinsville, Columbia, Edwardsville and Granite City.

Local solar installation company StraightUp Solar was competitively selected to perform all solar installation services for the program. Although Solar Power Hours have wrapped up for the year, program participation is open until Oct. 31. More information is available at GrowSolarMetroEast.com

Lewis and Clark Community College has sponsored Grow Solar all three years of its run.

“We’re thrilled to continue supporting this ever-growing successful program,” said Nate Keener, Director of Sustainability at Lewis and Clark Community College. “Sustainability education is a key goal for the college, and Grow Solar not only helps to educate the region about renewable energy, it helps them benefit from it too.”

The program depends on the strong support of local jurisdictions and community organizations, and several of the community organizers who help promote the Grow Solar Metro East program are also proud solar power installation owners.

“I estimate that we save about $600 per year with our solar installation,” said Kevin McKee of Troy, Illinois. “For about half the year, my electric bill is $20 or less. I also enjoy the feeling of reducing our fossil fuel consumption by the equivalent of 2.5 tons of coal per year.”

"My husband and I went Solar in 2016 and haven't looked back,” said presenter and organizational partner Virginia Woulfe-Beile, Three Rivers Project Coordinator for the Sierra Club. “We are offsetting about 90 percent of our electricity costs, enjoying the savings on our electric bill and feeling good about our contribution of clean renewable energy to the grid."

The discounts available through the Grow Solar Metro East program, combined with the current federal and state incentives and the likelihood of solar installation prices increasing in the future due to increasing demand, make this year the ideal time to go solar.

Visit the website GrowSolarMetroEast.com to learn more about the program.

The MREA was incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit shortly after the first Energy Fair in 1990. MREA’s mission is to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living through education and demonstration. To learn more, call (715) 592-6595 or visit www.midwestrenew.org.