In Central Ohio, This Group is Helping Underserved Communities Go Solar
From the city of Columbus to surrounding rural areas, Central Ohio faces many challenges when it comes to accelerating solar energy growth. This is particularly true for underserved communities that may lack the resources and opportunities to take full advantage of the clean energy boom. But the SolSmart program is working to change that. SolSmart is a federal program co-led by IREC that has helped over 400 municipalities, counties, and regional organizations across the nation go solar.
UNPREDICTABLEcity, part of the newest cohort of SolSmart Advisors, is working to bridge that gap and help the entire Central Ohio region enjoy the benefits of solar energy. To do so, the organization is using a collaborative approach that will include both the Columbus metro area and underserved rural communities.
“I am looking forward to finding and developing bridges between rural and urban communities in Ohio,” says Jon-Paul d’Aversa, principal at UNPREDICTABLEcity. “Working together we can not only realize greater economies of scale, but also create a consistent experience for residents and solar developers implementing these technologies across the region.”
SolSmart Advisors provide intensive, locally-focused technical assistance to help communities expand solar energy development and ultimately achieve SolSmart designation. SolSmart recently announced the fourth cohort of Advisors, which will place a particular focus on helping communities with limited resources go solar.
In Central Ohio, Mr. d’Aversa previously worked as a senior energy planner at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), which was recently designated SolSmart Silver. MORPC will now work as a facilitator to help urban and rural communities share best practices and work together toward designation.
While Central Ohio includes some economically thriving communities, many areas are struggling. In Franklin County, which includes Columbus, the child poverty rate is 24 percent — far above the national average — with comparatively high rates across a number of rural counties. Moreover, several Columbus neighborhoods face an extremely high energy burden, defined as the percentage of household income spent on energy costs, d’Aversa says.
In these areas with constrained resources, solar can offer an economic lifeline and an opportunity for new jobs. “If you’re putting solar on your home, that means your neighbor’s employed,” d’Aversa says. Statewide, Ohio already supports over 6,500 solar jobs and there is enormous potential for future growth.
The city of Columbus has recently made bold commitments to clean energy growth and will now work with its neighbors to pursue SolSmart designation. The city adopted a community choice aggregation program to receive 100 percent clean electricity from wind and solar, and recently concluded the first year of its solar group purchase initiative. Both projects would be welcome on a regional scale, d’Aversa says.
Rural communities face additional challenges, including that they often cede control of planning, zoning, and/or permitting authority to county governments. Under the regional approach led by MORPC, the goal is to help townships, municipalities, and counties work together to remove unnecessary obstacles to solar energy growth. “One thing we want to focus on is, how can governments serve governments better?” d’Aversa says.
UNPREDICTABLEcity also plans to work with local governments on solar energy incentives for low-to-moderate-income (LMI) households, as well as strategies to provide solar energy for renters. Meanwhile, there may be opportunities to expand community solar options through electric cooperatives serving rural communities outside of Columbus. “South Central Power developed a very successful community solar project in Lancaster, Ohio. They have been a consistent ally in advancing clean and cost-effective technologies for rural communities,” d’Aversa says.
UNPREDICTABLEcity is one of several new SolSmart Advisor organizations that will be helping underserved communities across the United States go solar. Read about the other organizations here.