Local team accepted into national community solar challenge

Originally published in The Athens Messenger – Samantha Nelson, staff journalist.


A local team of professionals wanting to expand access to solar power energy in Athens County and beyond has been accepted into a nationwide competition that will offer technical assistance, funding and a chance to win big money.

Led by Athens-based Upgrade Ohio, the Solar ACCESS team submitted their application into the national Solar in Your Community Challenge, a prize competition aiming to expand access to solar electricity in the United States. According to a news release from the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the challenge particularly emphasizes low- and moderate-income households (LMI); state, local and tribal governments; and nonprofit organizations.

The challenge is administered by the SUNY Polytechnic Institute and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative, a national effort to support the adoption of solar energy by making it affordable for all Americans.

The challenge calls on teams around the country to create and administer solar projects between 25 kilowatts and five megawatts in size in their communities with at least 20 percent of the energy and benefits going to LMI households or 60 percent going to local governments or non-profits.

Teams accepted into the challenge are eligible to receive up to $60,000 in seed funding and $10,000 in technical assistance vouchers, which will help to sustain their projects over the challenge’s 18-month period starting in May 2017. They will also compete to win $1 million in final prizes, including a $500,000 grand prize.

“Our team is pursuing a portfolio of solar development projects in Athens County that will generate over one megawatt of clean, green power,” said Sarah Conley-Ballew, the executive director of Upgrade Ohio, in the team’s pitch video for the challenge.

Part of the team’s project is to create a community solar investment fund that will support solar energy projects using local money, Conley-Ballew explains in the video. It also provides an opportunity for unaccredited local investors to participate in the solar economy.

The goal of the project is to begin with three installations in Athens County, with one for a school, one for a housing project and one for a non-profit. Conley-Ballew told The Messenger that the sites for those installations are not being shared at this time.

The Solar ACCESS team submitted their idea by the early application deadline in January and were one of 48 teams from 23 states and Washington D.C. that were accepted from the early applicants to participate in the challenge. The final application deadline for the challenge is March 17.

UpGrade Ohio was awarded up to $50,000 in cash and $10,000 in technical assistance that they will use to develop projects enabling non-profits and public buildings in Athens County to go solar, according to a press release from the organization.

The Solar ACCESS team is made up of experts not only from UpGrade Ohio but also from Third Sun Solar, the solar developers on the team, and New Resource Solutions, the project’s finance team.

Conley-Ballew said that if the Solar ACCESS team were to win the grand prize for the Solar in Your Community Challenge, they would use the funds to sustain the project so that it lasts more than the 18-month period.

The team’s submission into the Solar in Your Community Challenge immediately followed the completion of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a 2-year competition that was designed to spur communities nationwide to improve their energy efficiency. UpGrade Athens County, a project of UpGrade Ohio, was a semifinalist in the competition.

The organization is still waiting hear if they are one of the finalists for the competition, and the winners may not be announced until June. The grand prize for the Georgetown competition is $5 million.

Learn more here: http://www.solarinyourcommunity.org/en/challenge/solar-in-your-community-teams/1/teams/view/1762