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Health, Science & Environment

Columbus launches first solar co-op to boost community participation in clean energy

solar panals
Carl Attard

The City of Columbus launched the first Columbus Area Solar Co-op Tuesday at a press conference in North Linden.

The co-op will help educate and support residents that want to install solar panels.

Solar United Neighbors and Sustainable Columbus will host free info sessions about solar energy and roof assessments at no charge to home and business owners. Becoming a member is free.

IMPACT Community Action, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, and Simply Living Residents are also part of the partnership.

Myria Williams, Solar United Neighbors and Columbus Area Solar Co-op
WOSU/Tyler Thompson
Myria Williams, Solar United Neighbors and Columbus Area Solar Co-op, speaks to attendees.

Once enough people join, Solar United Neighbors will request bids from local solar companies. A selection committee will vet the bidders, lengths of warranties and costs. It will then choose one that fits members’ needs.

Myria Williams is a program associate for Solar United Neighbors.

“Each resident that decides to go solar through the co-op has the opportunity to customize their system and right size it for their needs,” Williams said.

Solar United Neighbors hosted two co-ops in Columbus two years ago. It served 250 residents with 30 families buying solar, with 230 kilowatts of energy, over 23,000 metric tons of carbon offset and $540,000 of local investment.

The co-op will also work with the IMPACT Community Action program Empowered! - a clean energy jobs effort for communities of color and women. Participants through the co-op's chosen solar company will have training, mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities.

Ras Jahlani Benlevi, Empowered! program participant
WOSU/Tyler Thompson
Ras Jahlani Benlevi, shares why he joined the Empowered! program and goals for the future.

Ras Jahlani Benlevi intends to work in the solar industry once he completes the 12-week program.

"I want to improve the quality of life for those around me and in my community,” he said. “Preparing people for the future of solar panels is part of that journey to better my community."

The city's goal is 50 megawatts of rooftop solar installed by 2030. That's enough power for 5,000 homes. Last month, the Ohio legislature passed a bill that prevents homeowner associations from imposing restrictions on people that want to go solar.

Columbus City Council member Emmanuel Remy said the co-op’s goal this year is 75 home and business installations.

"With the recent heat wave and power outages in June, having access to clean, reliable, local energy sources is critical," Remy said.

The first of four info sessions will be held virtually Thursday, July 14 at 6:00 p.m. An in-person info session will be held on Monday, July 25 at 5:00 p.m. at Impact Community Action. Participants will also have the option to join via zoom. The August 5 info session will be held at noon on Zoom. The final info session will be held on August 16 at 5:00 p.m. at Whetstone Library, with the option to join via Zoom. For information on how to join the info sessions, visit the Solar United Neighbors Columbus Co-op events page.

Tyler Thompson was a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.