New Report Highlights the Economic Development Impacts of a Community Solar Program in Cleveland
Gilbert Michaud, Ohio University
In March of 2020, a team of national community solar experts released a white paper report to help guide the creation of community solar programs that promote racial and economic equity. The report, Equitable Community Solar: Policy and Program Guidance for Community Solar Programs that Promote Racial and Economic Equity, projects the impacts of Cleveland Public Power instituting a hypothetical community solar program that would allow ratepayers to save money on their monthly bills by subscribing to a ‘solar garden.’ Subscribers reserve a share(s) in a solar array located off-site, and the power generated by their solar panels shows up as a credit on their bill. Profits also accrue to the owner of the solar panels.
The report, found here, was a collaborative effort between Timothy DenHerder-Thomas (Cooperative Energy Futures), Jonathan Welle (Cleveland Owns), John Farrell and Maria McCoy (Institute for Local Self-Reliance), Gabriel Chan and Matthew Grimley (University of Minnesota), Jill Cliburn (Cliburn and Associates), Subin DeVar (Sustainable Economies Law Center), Gilbert Michaud (Ohio University), and Corey Ramsden (Solar United Neighbors).
The report defines what makes a community solar program equitable, and states objectives that community solar programs striving to be equitable can pursue related to program structure, consumer participation, compensation, and other policy areas. For each objective, the report recommends one or more high-level policy or program guideline designed to center marginalized communities, defined as “communities at the frontline of pollution and climate change (‘frontline communities’), and those historically and presently disenfranchised by racial, economic, and social inequity.” It offers a rationale for each policy, while listing other plausible options that may work best in specific scenarios.
While the research and findings in the report apply to programs nationwide, the research team also conducted a case study of Cleveland, Ohio that focused on the economic development impacts of different community solar scenarios. Researchers estimated that the construction phase of potential community solar programs of 10 megawatts (MW) and 50 MW would generate economic impacts of $21 million and $95 million, respectively, nearly twice the upfront construction costs. The report also found that that a community solar program of 50 MW could create 554 jobs in the region. Many benefits of the project would occur during the construction phase of the project, delivering an immediate economic boost.
The report helps demonstrate how a community solar program in Cleveland could unlock value for a city striving to address racial and economic inequalities. Further, the economic benefits would be manifold for the city, especially as the installed cost of solar continues to decline. The authors envision this research equipping local advocates in Cleveland and other cities with municipal electric utilities with information they need to promote equitable community solar, and policymakers with tools to evaluate the economic opportunity equitable community solar could afford the city.
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