Drive by the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, or attend one of the events there, and you’ll see plenty of yellow caution tape and sections of the east side parking lots blocked with chain-link fencing.
It is neither a crime scene nor a university parking lot resurfacing project. It’s something much bigger.
Ameren Missouri has teamed up with Southeast Missouri State University to install new solar arrays over parking lots on the east side (the front) of the Show Me Center. When they are completed, solar panels will be installed at least 13 feet, 6 inches above the parking lot, allowing cars to park underneath, protected somewhat (but not completely) from the elements. Precipitation may drip through gaps in the modules, and there will be no gutters or downspouts.
Construction began Oct. 25 and will work around Show Me Center events to minimize disruption. The lots will be done one at a time. No parking will be allowed in the lot while construction is taking place. The northeast lot, where work has begun, has about 220 parking spaces that cannot be used at this time. It will reopen when construction shifts to the southeast lot.
The project is expected to be done and the solar panels in service next July.
A total of 3,500 solar modules will provide 1.2 megawatts of energy, which is enough to power more than 130 homes for a year. The electricity will not be used exclusively by the university; it will tie into the electric grid serving all of Cape Girardeau and the surrounding area.
“We are excited to work with Ameren Missouri to bring more renewable energy to Southeast Missouri and provide educational opportunities to our students and community about this important topic,” said Southeast President Dr. Carlos Vargas. “This solar installation is a great addition to our campus sustainability efforts and demonstrates the commitment of the University and our entire Redhawk community has to a greener, cleaner future.”
“We appreciate that Southeast Missouri State University is partnering with us to use two of its parking lots to double as solar energy generation,” said Russ Burger, southeast division director for Ameren Missouri. “This installation is a valuable project for the community as an opportunity to grow apprenticeships and construction jobs, educational opportunities and clean energy.”
“It’s going to be the largest Neighborhood Solar project in the state,” Burger added. The $5 million project will include the installation of 3,500 solar panels.
A smaller one began operating this past summer at Habitat for Humanity St. Louis.
A third solar array is planned for a portion of the parking lot at the Maryland Heights Community Center in St. Louis County. Construction on that half-megawatt installation will begin next year with an in-service date of spring 2023.
These three solar projects are made possible by Ameren Missouri’s Neighborhood Solar Program, which utilizes existing buildings, parking lots and land for solar energy generation — at no cost to the organization. It also creates local jobs and provides valuable training opportunities for not only the initial installation, but for ongoing maintenance as well.
The project began with conversations between Ameren and the university. “We talked to the president of the university, and he’s interested in green energy,” explained Burger. “There is an application process they had to go through, and they applied, and now its coming to fruition.”
Ameren will continue to maintain the solar array “for a few decades to come,” Burger said.
The Neighborhood Solar Program is part of Ameren Missouri’s larger Smart Energy Plan. Launched in 2019, the plan aims to create cleaner and more energy for Ameren’s 1.2 million electric customers statewide.
“From the university’s perspective, we’re excited about it for a number of reasons,” said Brad Sheriff, vice president of finance for the university.
“One is an opportunity to partner with Ameren and be part of an energy sustainability initiative.
“The other thing that will be kind of neat for us and our patrons, is because these are solar canopies, we end up with in the neighborhood of 500 covered parking spaces.
“The other thing we’re talking to Ameren about is how to incorporate some educational opportunities into this project, and make this a student learning platform as well as an energy efficiency platform,” he said.
“It’s going to change the look a lot,” continued Burger. The front of the Show Me Center will certainly look different from the street. “But it’s good for Ameren; it’s good for us; it’s good for the community; and it’s good for our students,” Sheriff said.