Solar-energy bulk purchasing starts in Appalachian Ohio

Originally published in The Athens News – for the “Energy Action” column

The growth of solar across the country may be easier in some places than others, but one national group is taking the challenge head-on by developing bulk solar purchasing programs in various communities to help drive down the “soft costs” of solar. The Community Power Network (CPN), a non-profit and lead organizers of the “Solar United Neighborhoods” (SUN) model, now with programs in multiple states, seeks to improve solar accessibility in areas with less favorable solar policy.

This is particularly important in a state like Ohio, where for years the legislature has gone back and forth on a comprehensive energy policy that addresses distributed energy resources, like solar, as it relates to Ohio’s renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) and its de facto segregated electric utilty market.

Ohio has created no incentive to grow the solar market since before 2014, when lawmakers decided to freeze the state’s RPS. Now back in effect in 2017, the utilities and legislature alike are scrambling to set a clear precedent forward – does Ohio prop-up aging coal (and now nuclear) power generation fleets or do we move swiftly towards a clean energy-based economy?

Regardless of where that political battle will land, the residential and small community solar market is left with no clear path, even though the demand for solar on rooftops and public buildings is increasing.

OH SUN became one of the first pilot states to test the CPN model – where a group of homeowners or organizations bulk purchases solar systems, selects a single contractor to install systems on each of their buildings, and yet, owns the system and has their own contract with the installer. To date, the Ohio chapter has organized four cooperatives, or co-ops, in northeast Ohio, central Ohio, the Ohio Valley region and now in the Appalachian Ohio region.

Neighbors in the greater Athens area and across Appalachian Ohio are actively recruiting for the solar co-op! The co-op, currently around 40 members, can purchase solar systems together to save money and share knowledge. Installations are beginning now, and you can join the membership at any time. Properties will be reviewed for solar potential and will qualify based on their suitability for solar.

A group of homeowners met recently and after thorough consideration chose Appalachian Renewable Power (ARP) as their solar installer, a small installation outfit out of Stewart, Ohio. The group used a competitive bidding process to select ARP to install systems on all participating homes. Each participant (homeowner) signs his or her own contract with the installer, but everyone gets the bulk discount. The model saves installers a great deal of money too since the customers are coming to them and they can order everything in bulk.

“We are very excited to be selected as the installer for the Appalachian Ohio solar co-op. As long-time residents of the area it’s an honor to be chosen by our neighbors and we look forward to the opportunity to make solar accessible to more people,” says Gary Easton, owner of ARP, “Since all of our business since 2008 has come from word-of-mouth referrals, we are excited to broaden that base of happy solar homeowners.”

Interested participants can save 10-20% off the cost of a solar system compared to what they would have paid if they purchased it on their own, without the buying power of their neighbors. In this case, “neighbors” is a very loose term and anyone in the Appalachian Ohio region can become a co-op member. And even if you join, you are not obligated to make a solar system purchase, but you can access the agreed upon bulk discount when you are ready to go solar… now that’s a deal!

Other regional groups like the Appalachian Renewable Energy Consumer Cooperative, Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, Rural Action, and UpGrade Ohio have joined OH SUN to sponsor, promote, and recruit members to the Appalachian Ohio co-op. – and there is plenty of room for more members!

“We’re excited to partner with some really great non-profits to bring this opportunity to southeast Ohio.  We have some of the best solar resources in the state, and people have been really eager to learn about how to save money by going solar.  As a native of the region, it’s great to see all the new jobs being created through the growth of solar,” said Luke Sulfridge, OH SUN Program Director.

As the push towards clean energy in the United States evolves, the ability to break barriers and create avenues for folks to participate in the reformation of the energy industry will be critically important. To understand this evolution, specifically solar energy’s play in this game, OH SUN will be hosting the “Ohio Solar Congress” on Saturday, April 8 in partnership with Zane State College.


To learn more about the Ohio Solar Congress and the Appalachian Ohio co-op, please visit: – The Ohio Solar Congress will be held at the Advanced Science and Technology Center at Zane State College from 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM. The event is free to attend.  Advanced registration is not required, but appreciated.