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Solar ACCESS Project
Solar ACCESS: Appalachian Citizens’ Community Economy Solar Shares
Athens County has the highest rate of poverty in Ohio and yet has more residential solar per capita than any other county in Ohio. The opportunity to extend solar development to an underserved population can only come with the strategic development of community-led initatives to bring solar access to those who need it most.
Solar ACCESS has initiated development of a 1.3MW solar installation at Federal Hocking Local School in Stewart, Ohio, slated for installation by August 2018. The Federal Hocking School District serves
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UpGrade Ohio’s Solar ACCESS project was developed to provide solar electric (PV) energy to low-to-moderate income (LMI) populations as a competitive project in the Department of Energy's Solar in Your Community Challenge. The Solar in Your Community Challenge is a $5 million contest to support innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities.
Since UpGrade Ohio's inception of the Solar ACCESS project, the project's team has initiated a 1.3 MW solar PV project at a public school in Athens County, Ohio. The original idea was to connect traditional investors to solar investment packages that fund the deployment of solar on public buildings in southeast Ohio, while also generating a return to those investors based on the utility savings realized by the public institution receiving the solar system.
The innovative component of the Solar ACCESS project was to create a mechanism for residents to contribute their own money to the pool of funds needed to install solar PV systems on public buildings that serve the low-to-moderate income community in Athens County. Initially, three project sites were selected, and the largest site, Federal Hocking Secondary School, was first in line to develop. According to the 2018 Ohio Poverty Report, Athens County had 31.2% of households living below the poverty line - the highest percentage in the state of Ohio. Federal Hocking Local School District is one of five school districts in Athens County, serving 8,049 residents.
Solar ACCESS aimed to create community solar subscription shares at $100 per share for a 10-year term. Solar subscribers would receive a monthly on-bill credit based on share size. The low share price was selected to create greater access to the solar market for LMI residents who wanted to support solar in their community. Arcadia Power would have become the utility bill administrator and processor for community solar subscription holders, allowing subscribers to pay for their electric utility bill and receive their solar subscription credit through Arcadia Power's billing system.
In the process of designing this structure, we learned that this model added complexity to the contractual process for the Federal Hocking project, protracting negotiations. It also added confusion for potential subscribers who would be required to join an outside retail energy supplier in order to subscribe to a local community solar project. Rather than creating a way to increase access to the solar market, this model would have added more steps. Even if it may be attractive to individuals who were already interested in supporting community solar efforts, it would likely be an unsustainable model going forward.
After careful consideration, the Solar ACCESS Team decided that the 1.3 MW 2-Phase solar installation on Federal Hocking Local Schools would move forward with a traditional PPA financing structure. The installation is slated for construction in August 2018.
Another pathway to community solar development that had been considered in the initial community solar brainstorming sessions was working with our long-standing partner, the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC) to utilize funds in their existing electric aggregation program to fund community solar projects. When the Solar in Your Community Challenge launched, SOPEC was still growing operations and expanding aggregation services to member communities. In late 2017, we pitched the idea of establishing an opt-out community solar program to SOPEC, and the timing was right to build a pilot program together.
On February 5, 2018, Athens City Council approved an ordinance placing an opt-out carbon fee on the ballot for voters in the City of Athens to consider at the May 8th primary election. The proposed carbon fee would raise the price of energy to account for some of the social costs of carbon emissions caused by energy consumption. The revenues collected through the fee would be invested into a community solar program that would develop rooftop solar systems on public buildings in the City of Athens. The community solar program will be purposed with maximizing the development of rooftop solar systems on public buildings in the City of Athens. Beyond city government buildings, public buildings include school buildings, county government buildings, and buildings used by public boards such as the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities and the Fair Board.
At current usage levels, the partial carbon fee would provide enough revenues to fund 60 kilowatts of rooftop solar generation capacity per year. Each of these annual 60-kilowatt installations would offset 90,000 kilowatt hours of energy and save $10,000 per year throughout the service life of the solar system. After ten years, the 600-kilowatt portfolio of projects would offset 900,000 kilowatt hours of energy and save $100,000 per year on an ongoing basis.
On May 8, 2018, Voters in the City of Athens overwhelmingly passed the ballot measure to authorize the carbon fee for SOPEC aggregation customers. Over 76% of voters approved the initiative, demonstrating strong support for this groundbreaking strategy for community solar development. The plan of operations will be developed this summer, and the program will begin in fall 2018.
To create more access to the solar market, the Solar ACCESS team is exploring additional avenues to scale solar development, bridging new sources of capital together with anticipated revenues generated by the carbon fee community solar fund. Foundations, private investment, corporate contributions and
The Solar ACCESS team is committed to bringing solar to more people, meeting UpGrade Ohio's mission to drive demand for clean energy in Ohio. Our replication model for Solar ACCESS would aim to develop the organizational capacity to provide both technical and project development assistance for dozens of communities across the state of Ohio and in states that have a deregulated electricity market, or otherwise allow community choice aggregation. Solar ACCESS would offer a collection of best practices and services for creating aggregation-based community solar projects and programs.