Solar Panels on Roof of Home

What happens when the Missouri Botanical Garden, Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Washington University in St. Louis join forces? Something powerful. More specifically, Grow Solar St. Louis – a solar power group-buy program that can help property owners living in the city of St. Louis, Clayton, Maplewood, Richmond Heights and University City invest in affordable solar installations through volume purchasing and free community education. Ladue News caught up with Glenda Abney, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s director of the Earthways Center, to learn more about the Grow Solar St. Louis program.

What inspired you to collaborate with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Washington University to implement the Grow Solar St. Louis program?

The garden has known of the MREA for years and considers them a highly respected and great organization. We, of course, feel the same about Washington University. The Grow Solar program originally started with MREA, so the garden reached out to them to inquire about bringing the program to the St. Louis region. Wash U was considering supporting a solar group-buy program at the same time, so the three of us came together to provide the program in the local region.

How does the program work?

Home and small-business property owners can start by attending a free Solar Power Hour. This one-hour event provides a thorough overview of solar. Those who attend can even have the solar technicians check their site right at the Solar Power Hour using a special software program to determine if their property is viable for solar. Technicians will check the roof type, orientation, size and the tree canopy shading of the property. If your site wouldn’t work well for solar, they’ll tell you right away. If it is well-suited for solar, you can determine if you want to move forward. If you chose to move forward, you can set up an appointment with the StraightUp Solar [the installers competitively selected for this program] staff, who will do a site visit for an even more detailed assessment at no cost to you. After the visit, you will receive a bid, and only then, if you want to move forward, will you enter into a contract with SUS for a solar install.

Timing is important – the sooner you sign up, the higher the likelihood you can get solar installed this year. Some of our participants will sign up at the end of the program – no later than Nov. 15 – and will have installs done early in 2020.

What are the perks of going solar?

You will save energy costs over the life of the solar array. There is a cost upfront to install, but you will save electricity in your monthly bills starting right away in the first month. You are also using a cleaner choice of power and making a huge difference to the environment. You’ll receive a rebate from Ameren Missouri and are eligible for a tax credit. Plus there are financing options available.

You are offering an array of Solar Power Hours. Are all events the same educational opportunity?

Yes, you just need to attend one. We offer many to make it easy to engage, and we host them at fun places! [You’ll learn] the benefits of going solar and how their property might work for a solar install.

What’s the ultimate goal of this program?

To advance sustainability in the region. We have more than 30 sustainability-related programs we do in the community as part of Missouri Botanical Garden. Each of these programs results in cleaner air, water and soil, which is essential for plant conservation and a healthy quality of life for all of us. We love solar-based programs, because it’s a mechanical way of using the benefit of the sun, which is just what the plants do!

Is this the first time this program has been offered?

This is the first time in the St. Louis region. There is a Grow Solar Metro East program that has been going on for several years. We were watching that program and waiting for the right time to bring it to the Missouri side, and that time is now! 

To learn more about Grow Solar St. Louis or to see upcoming Solar Power Hour education events, visit

Alecia is LN’s managing editor. Fueled by coffee and faith, Alecia is a wifey, boy mom and fur mama to two, enjoying this crazy thing called life one moment at a time.