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Ameren Shows Off Solar Panels & Energy Learning Center

ABOVE: Solar panels on the roof of Ameren's headquarters at 18th & Chouteau

Last week I attended an event at the headquarters of electric utility Ameren. From the press release:


Ameren Missouri constructed the largest multi-technology solar installation in the state as part of its vision to lead the way to a secure and sustainable energy future. The company is testing four solar technologies to compare performance and reliability in a Midwestern climate.

At AmerenSolar.com, customers can now access, in real-time, data on how much energy each solar technology generates atop Ameren Missouri’s headquarters. Using easy-to-read graphs and charts, the website also provides customers insight into how net metering works, as well as information on rebates and other financial incentives. By advising customers on this issue, they can make a more informed decision whether solar power is right for their home or business.

Energy Learning Center

Hands-on education is available at the Energy Learning Center, located overlooking Ameren Missouri’s rooftop solar installation. Here, tour groups can access the latest information on various renewable energy sources – including solar, energy efficiency options for their homes or businesses, and environmental upgrades throughout the Ameren system. To book a tour for a group or organization, go to the Energy Learning Center Section of AmerenSolar.com.

No matter what questions customers have or which option they choose to find an answer, Ameren Missouri is ready to be their trusted source for energy information.

Interesting, even though a couple of decades late.

ABOVE: AmerenMissouri VP Richard Marl (left) talks with Steve Patterson (right) on Ameren's roof. Photo: Ameren

I liked that the roof was fully  accessible!

ABOVE: AmerenSolar.com can show you the energy produced by each of the four technologies each day.

Slight differences between the four types of solar panels.  Not sure how helpful this data will be to someone considering adding solar panels to their home or business but hopefully it will be.

– Steve Patterson


Readers Glad To See Bike Station & Shop Downtown

ABOVE: Downtown St. Louis Bike Station in use on Tuesday April 26, 2011

The poll (& post) last week was about downtown’s newest businesses – a bike station and bike shop:

Q: Will you use the new downtown bike station & shop?

  1. I won’t use either, but I’m glad to see they are opening 49 [32.03%]
  2. I’ll use the bike shop, but not the bike station 24 [15.69%]
  3. I’ll use both the station and shop 20 [13.07%]
  4. I won’t use either 14 [9.15%]
  5. I don’t live in St. Louis 14 [9.15%]
  6. I might use one or both 13 [8.5%]
  7. Other answer… 11 [7.19%]
  8. Unsure at this time 6 [3.92%]
  9. I’ll use the bike station, but not the bike shop 2 [1.31%]

The bike station & shop are clearly appealing to many readers, but the numbers of users is limited due to the niche nature.

Here are the eleven other answers provided by readers:

  1. Would use it if I worked Downtown
  2. the city sucks and steals ideas from young people
  3. Bike lanes are a waste of good driving lanes.
  4. I’ll drive my car and arrive to work clean and on time.
  5. I don’t live in downtown STL anymore so I no longer need a bike to commute.
  6. Already signed up as a member!
  7. I no longer live in STL, but I’ll promote both to family/friends as always.
  8. don’t use downtown
  9. nope
  10. I’d use it every day if I worked in the area.
  11. Wish there were one near Barnes

The bike station had a soft opening on the 21st.  At 10am tomorrow both the station and Urban Shark bike shop will hold their grand openings.

ABOVE: Downtown Bike Station entry is off a dead-end alley

From a September 8, 2010 press release:

The City of St. Louis applied for a Federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant from the Department of Energy to specifically fund this project. These funds were designated for energy-saving projects, and had to be approved by the Department of Energy. From the grant the City received, $181,600 will cover the costs to buy the lockers, interior bike racks, and fund the operational costs of the Downtown Bike Center’s first two years. The Downtown Community Improvement District and other partners will provide additional funding.

“We are building a City that provides an attractive way of life. After World War II, the car was a symbol of freedom. For some people today, it is just the opposite,” said Mayor Slay. “We look forward to working with the Downtown St. Louis CID and Loftworks to ensure the long-term success of this public bike center and the City’s cycling initiative.”

“This project will help cement Downtown as a walkable, livable neighborhood where you can rely on alternatives to the car,” said Maggie Campbell, Partnership President and CEO. “We are thrilled to be working with the community to realize this sustainable investment.”

“Since vehicle emissions contribute about a third of the Greenhouse Gasses into the environment, we wanted to use these ARRA Stimulus funds to promote an alternative mode of transportation,” said Catherine Werner, the City’s Sustainability Director. “By enabling St. Louis commuters to choose cycling as an affordable and attractive option, the City is demonstrating its commitment to being a healthy and sustainable community.”

Additional information:

– Steve Patterson




Botanical Grove: Green City Living in the Heart of Saint Louis

A ground breaking was held last Friday afternoon for the Botanical Grove project in the Botanical Heights neighborhood.

The Botanical Heights Neighborhood is a centrally located neighborhood with close proximity to many Saint Louis amenities and destinations. The neighborhood is in the midst of a series of planned redevelopment projects that aim to improve the area, creating a vibrant walkable urban community. The first portion of redevelopment was completed between 2004 and 2007 and included the construction of 150 new homes on the six blocks bounded by 39th Street and Thurman Avenue, completed by St. Louis based homebuilder McBride and Sons. Botanical Grove represents the next phase of development, with a focus on green building within and the historic context of the western half of the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was formerly called McRee Town, so-named after McRee Ave that runs east-west through the neighborhood. Here is info on the project:

Botanical Grove includes thirty new homes on the 4200 Block of McRee in the Botanical Heights Neighborhood of St. Louis. These homes include all new homes as well as complete renovations of historic homes, with a range of unit types and sizes. All homes are built to LEED for Homes standards, to your custom specifications. Green construction on all homes, including standard geothermal heating and cooling, means a healthy lifestyle at a low operating cost. Combining these green features, with quality construction, and ten year property tax abatement allows Botanical Heights Homes to offer exceptional homes at a an exceptional value.

The firm UIC + CDO, located at McRee Ave & Tower Grove Ave , is the developer.  The project has been in the planning stages for the last five years.  In August 2010 I attended a neighborhood meeting where the project was presented to the neighbors, Ald Joseph Roddy (17th Ward) and Stephen Conway (8th Ward) both spoke at the gathering.

ABOVE: Ald Roddy (left) and Ald Conway (right) in August 2010
ABOVE: Ald Roddy (left) and Ald Conway (right), August 23, 2010

I like many things about this project, among them:

  • Existing privately owned homes within the defined area will remain in the hands of the current owners. Existing residents I spoke with will be glad to see  neighboring properties renovated and vacant lots infilled.
  • Vacant structures will be renovated, not razed.
  • New construction offers a contemporary, but compatible aesthetic.  The Model 1 has a great floor plan with central kitchen and rear living room.
  • LEED construction for the buildings as well as green elements for the street, such as rain gardens, are important to reducing waste.
  • Commercial buildings along Tower Grove Ave will also be renovated.
  • The homes include single-family detached and townhouses. The sizes are reasonable, not McMansions.

I’d be concerned about starting such a project in this economy but the bankers present on Friday are behind the effort.  I think they will phase the project over the next few years as buyers sign on the dotted line for each renovated building or new construction.

ABOVE: ground breaking shovels outside the UIC+CDO office on Friday March 18, 2011

This firm has already demonstrated with both of their buildings at Tower Grove Ave & McRee Ave that good design and a slow approach can make a huge difference over time. Over the next 10 years we will hopefully see the rest of the vacant structures in Botanical Heights renovated and the vacant lots infilled with new housing units.

– Steve Patterson


Gas Is Too Cheap

March 10, 2011 Economy, Environment 8 Comments

I’m tired of the news stories about the recent spike in gas prices, as a nation we’ve enjoyed cheap fuel for decades.  Long enough to build ourselves into a corner where if we don’t continue to have cheap gas our society crumbles. Well folks, the party is coming to a close. Now the Obama administration is considering stepping in and selling some reserves:

“The U.S.-held emergency oil supply – called the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – contains 727,000,000 barrels of oil … enough to supply the nation for several months.

Proponents say releasing oil from the reserves would calm spiking gas prices and limit the threat to the U.S. economic recovery. Critics say the oil reserves should be saved for a true emergency.” (CBS News: Would tapping oil reserve help in wake of Libya?)

An increase in price isn’t an emergency — yet.  We need to figure out how to transition from our cheap gas culture (sprawl, limited transit, etc) to the reality the rest of the world has known for years, oil supply is limited.  Officials worry about the economic recovery, but they want to get back to the old economy that requires cheap gas.

In other parts of the world gas can cost the equivalent of $6-$8/gallon! We must work on a plan to get us to this point with as little pain as possible.  We will get there at some point anyway, I’d just rather we planned for it than having it creep up on us.  The pain (war) it will take to keep our cheap gas society over the next 20 years will be far worse than planning for change now.

From April 2010:

“Responding to one of the first major directives of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today jointly established historic new federal rules that set the first-ever national greenhouse gas emissions standards and will significantly increase the fuel economy of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States. The rules could potentially save the average buyer of a 2016 model year car $3,000 over the life of the vehicle and, nationally, will conserve about 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the lives of the vehicles covered.” (Source: EPA)

Raising the CAFE standards was a good start, we’ve got to let gas prices go up so that buys demand the more fuel efficient vehicles the automakers must begin selling in volume.  The longer we wait the harder it is going to be when the time comes.

ABOVE: Modern streetcar in Portland OR
ABOVE: Modern streetcar in Portland OR

The following steps need to be taken:

  • Raise fuel taxes to fund modern urban transit systems (modern streetcars) and discourage auto use.
  • Change zoning & building codes to require compact/walkable development.

We don’t need to ban cars, we just need to tilt the playing field so people have legitimate options to get from A to B.

– Steve Patterson


Shaming Owners of Rundown Properties

St. Louis could learn something from Webster.  No, not the suburb Webster Groves, Webster Mass:

WEBSTER, Mass. – The health board in a Massachusetts town has approved a plan to shame owners of rundown buildings into fixing and securing their properties.The plan approved Monday by the Webster board allows the town to place 4-by-8-foot signs on the sides of dilapidated buildings with the owner’s names, address and telephone number. (Mass. town approves plan to shame property owners)

St. Louis could just print lots of signs with the same info — no, not Paul McKee:

lraThe LRAreceives title to all tax delinquent properties not sold at the Sheriff’s sale. Also receives title to properties through donations. The SLDC Real Estate Department maintains, markets, and sells these properties and performs land assemblage for future development.” Maintains?

– Steve Patterson