By: Mathew Roberts, UpGrade Ohio Info and Outreach Director
Originally printed in the Green Energy Ohio news magazine, Winter 2017 issue
Are you a small business owner or farmer located in Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Vinton, or Washington county? START HERE (or fill out form below) for a free site assessment!
Though the headlines these days highlight the complexities and conflicts that come with any new federal administration, the media at-large may be downplaying an important narrative that speaks to the astonishing growth of clean energy across the country.
The solar industry made trending news with a report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association highlighting a record 14.6 gigawatts installed in the U.S. last year, almost double the total from 2015. Solar now employs over 250,000 people and accounted for 1 out of every 50 new U.S. jobs last year. This growth will continue and the case for 100% clean energy will get stronger each year.
Despite the promising view from above, not enough attention is granted to local and state efforts to accelerate the shift by adopting clean energy technologies that include wind, geothermal, and bio-gas captured from agricultural or residential waste streams.
Wind power recently surpassed hydroelectric power as the number one form of renewable energy in the United States. Geothermal systems have one of the lowest “Levelized Costs of Energy” (LCOE) of all power sources in the United States – making up 104 operating plants in nine (9) states with a capacity of 3,700 megawatts. Additionally, many rural communities are finding that anaerobic digestion is a viable form of economic development that can produce a multitude of benefits including cleaner-burning gas for electricity production, compressed and liquefied fuel products, and even the creation of carbon-capturing soil amendments.
One region of Ohio is hoping to identify projects that can lead to significant cost reductions and positive environmental outcomes for small businesses and farmers in an 8-county footprint. As we are seeing each day, the broad potential of these technologies has yet to be tapped.
A grant from USDA Rural Development arm has provided eligible small businesses and agricultural producers with free renewable energy site assessments for those interested in adding solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, geothermal technologies, or anaerobic digesters to their for-profit operations.
The grant, a first of its kind in the state of Ohio, was issued to the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC) and is administered by the collaborating non-profit, UpGrade Ohio. Interested applicants will contact UpGrade Ohio for pre-approval and a determination of which technology may be best to explore.
Small businesses and agricultural producers located in Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Vinton, or Washington county are encouraged to apply at www.upgradeohio.org/reda. The program will continue for at least another 15 months – and applicants can request assessments for multiple technologies, if suitable.
Successful applicants will work directly with the renewable energy assessors, Third Sun Solar (solar), Airclaws (geothermal) and BioStar Energy Group (bio-gas), respectively, in hopes of finding viable projects that bring renewable energy development on site. UpGrade Ohio also provides a turn-key solution, if the assessment proves cost-effective, by offering grant-writing for the Rural Energy for America program (REAP) grant, another USDA program that covers 25% of the cost of the installation.
With the REDA grant, SOPEC and UpGrade Ohio continue their collaboration to implement strong, regional goals that can lead to more locally owned power systems and greater cooperation among public officials and leaders in the region to develop regional renewable energy assets.
Currently, farm and business dollars spent on electric utility bills leave the regional economy at the mercy of Ohio’s major investor-owned utilities who are often headquartered out of the region and owned by out-of-state investors. Without more locally-owned generation, those hard-earned dollars and resources depart the southeast Ohio food and business economy. That gap can be narrowed significantly by owning renewable energy assets.
Nevertheless, the opportunity to make an impact is promising, as the number of U.S. farms that added on-site renewable generation doubled in 2012 compared to 2007. These investments have been a major driver for lower energy costs and better state renewable energy legislation and portfolio standards. This opportunity shows that when communities respond with a plan of action, federal agencies begin to take notice and loosen the barriers currently holding them back. Free assessments begin the conversation and pave a path for clean energy independence.
Farmers and business owners in the REDA service area are encouraged to apply and access our other renewable energy services at: www.upgradeohio.org/renewableenergy or by calling 740-591-1990.