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Columbus Lags Behind Peers in Solar Power

Brent Warren Brent Warren Columbus Lags Behind Peers in Solar PowerPhoto by Brent Warren.
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Despite steady growth in the number of solar panel installations in Columbus over the past several years, a new report shows that the city still lags behind many other places, including Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The report, from the environmental organizations Frontier Group and Environment America, ranks Columbus 54th in the category of installed solar power per person.

Clocking in at 7.1 watts per person, Columbus occupies one of the lower slots in what the report calls the “Solar Builders” category (which are doing better than the “Solar Beginners,” but worse than the “Solar Leaders)”

At the top of the list are the “Solar Stars,” which includes sunny locales like Honolulu (in first place with 646 watts of solar power per person) and San Diego (number two with 248 watts), but also cities like Burlington, Vermont, Newark, New Jersey and Indianapolis (number seven with 144 watts of installed solar per person).

Alana Shockey, Assistant Director of Sustainability at the City of Columbus, acknowledges that there is a lot of room for improvement on this particular metric, but insists that the city is well positioned to make significant gains in the coming years – both in terms of solar power, and in terms of an overall reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions.

“Efficiency is where you start, and that’s our journey,” she says, citing a collaboration with AEP Ohio and Columbia Gas that is expected to result in 30,000 home energy audits being performed by December of 2020.

Another example is the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which provides financing to businesses for energy-related improvements. Shockey says participation in the program has “grown exponentially over the past couple of years….this is the foundational work that has us well-positioned to move forward collaboratively on the renewable energy side.”

Plans call for the PACE program to be expanded to residential customers, and for more promotion to encourage businesses to use the program to finance new renewable energy investments (like solar panels) that would build on the efficiency upgrades that have already been made.

David Celebrezze, the city’s GreenSpot Coordinator, adds that the city has streamlined its permitting process for residents looking to add solar panels to their homes, and is hopeful that the overall numbers will continue to increase.

Another reason for optimism, according to the city officials, is Columbus’ selection last fall as one of 20 winners of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, a two-year program which aims to accelerate local efforts to meet carbon reduction goals.

The Columbus Green Community Plan (the third in a series of documents known as Green Memos, first produced under the Michael Coleman administration), sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from city operations by 30%, and within the community at large by 20% by 2020.

Jeff Ortega, Sustainable Columbus Coordinator, says that the city is on track to meet the internal operations goal, thanks in part to projects like the 2013 installation of 2,650 solar panels on its fleet management building at 4211 Groves Road.

Meeting the community-wide goal will be more difficult, given the growth and development the city is experiencing, but Ortega says “there is great optimism that the programs that the city is implementing as part of the American Cities Climate Challenge” can move the needle enough to achieve that overall goal as well.

The next set of climate-related goals will be established in a new document, called the Sustainable Columbus Climate Action Plan, that is currently being developed by consultant Arup USA.

Additional Reading: Solar Panels in Columbus? How to Know if They Would Work on Your Home

Note: this article was updated on June 19 with corrected information on the number of energy audits performed (30,000 is the projected amount by the end of 2020, not so far), and with a more accurate description of the city’s progress in meeting the community-wide goal for greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

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