People’s Solar Project to light up Columbus

We are excited to announce a partnership with solar developer Art Yoho on the People’s Solar Project, a demonstration community solar and microgrid that will generate 5 MW of solar energy to power 80 homes, five churches and two city schools in a 300-acre area on Cooke Road. Eventually the Cooke Road Solarhood will include a resilience hub with energy storage, an attractive solar park, and an Energy Academy.

Currently in Ohio, community solar is difficult to set up in territory served by an investor-owned utility such as AEP, because the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has not clarified regulations and Ohio has not passed enabling legislation. However, municipal utilities are not subject to the same limitations and can do community solar projects.

Columbus is one of 80 cities in Ohio that has a municipal utility — the Columbus Division of Power. It is one of the largest municipal utilities in the state, serving more than 12,000 industrial, commercial and residential customers. The People’s Solar Project is in the Division of Power’s service area, and project leaders are hoping to set up a power purchase agreement so that the Division of Power can facilitate this community solar project.

Community solar is an alternative to rooftop solar. Many people do not realize that 75 percent of homes are not suitable for rooftop solar for a variety of reasons: the roof may face the wrong direction to get adequate sun, the home may be shaded by large trees the owners do not want to cut down, the occupants may be in a rental home or apartment where the landlord would have to pay for solar panels, or even if they own their own home, they cannot afford the up-front cost of a solar system. 

Community solar addresses this problem by bringing together several people in one neighborhood or area of town to go in together on a solar facility, with each household or business using only a portion of the power generated. As a result, community solar is much more affordable than rooftop solar systems,  providing greater resilience and carbon-free emissions at about half the cost. 

At the heart of the People’s Solar Project are the SolPoles solar trees. SolPoles are designed to mount 10 solar panels with minimal resources and maximum adaptability, making it possible for more locations to benefit from low-cost zero emission local energy generation. SolPoles create a strong but beautiful way to generate community solar energy through construction of an attractive solar park.

Additional advantages of SolPoles include ease of maintenance and occasional cleaning of the panels, which is made possible by rotating the array to ground level when needed. The array can adjust its angle for better seasonal efficiency, and future plans are to enable daily sun tracking for further improvements in efficiency.

You can get a preview of the People’s Solar Project — along with area community gardeners, bee keepers, and potters — this Saturday, April 10, at 10 a.m. at 4166 Maize Rd, Columbus. Learn more about the long-term vision to establish similar community solar projects in low income neighborhoods and communities of color that need the resilience it can provide the most.

We are especially interested in setting up community solar projects in the six neighborhoods identified by the recent Franklin County Energy Study as having unacceptably high energy burdens — where people pay too high of a percentage of their household income on energy. The average energy burden in the United States is 3.5%, but people pay 11% in Franklinton, 8% in Linden and King-Lincoln, 7% in Hilltop and Weinland Park, and 6% in Old Towne East.