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Birth of the Dayton Area Solar Co-ops

Philip J. Leppla and Miranda Leppla, June 4, 2018

Philip and Miranda

One of the most satisfying parts about working on energy issues at the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) is seeing our advocacy work come to life as energy projects are dreamed up and constructed right here in Ohio.  

The energy team at the OEC has been working to improve laws, rules and regulations around distributed generation so that more Ohioans are able to source their power from clean energy, often by producing it right in their own backyards.  

Rooftop solar is one of the fastest growing sources of clean energy across the state and helps homeowners ensure the energy they use is emission-free and also helps them save money on their electric bills, making it a win-win for homeowners who install these systems.  

This year, I was lucky to play a small role in my family’s effort to install solar at their homes by connecting my brother to resources that made it possible, not just for my family to go solar, but once my brother ran with the idea, for an entire community to move toward a cleaner future.

— Miranda Leppla, Clean Energy Attorney, The Ohio Environmental Council

What started as a desire to power our house with clean energy, snowballed into a county-wide solar initiative.  In February 2017, my wife, Heather, and I asked my sister, Miranda if she had any recommendations for putting solar panels on our garage. She immediately asked if I had considered creating a solar co-op, and at the time, I had no idea what she was talking about.

After explaining that a co-op would lower the cost of our system and encourage others in our neighborhood to install solar, she put me in touch with Luke Sulfridge of Solar United Neighbors of Ohio (then known as Ohio SUN).

The  Solar United Neighbors co-op model is a group of homeowners in a defined geographic area who use their combined bulk buying power to save on the total cost of going solar.

Solar installers face significant marketing costs by trying to find solar customers. By forming a group of interested buyers, co-op members can receive a significant discount because the group has done some of the work for the installer. Co-op members also have the benefit of working with a group and with Solar United Neighbors of Ohio, who helps educate and guide them through the selection of an installer and the installation process.

After speaking with Luke and reviewing Solar United Neighbors’ website, I composed an email and Facebook post and put together an information sheet for my historic neighborhood, McPherson Town, on the edge of the Great Miami River.

The response to my email and post on our neighborhood Facebook page was surprising and extremely encouraging, with over 20 households (out of 80 structures in our neighborhood) indicating that they were interested and wanted to know more. I then sent out an email to family, friends, and acquaintances, and encouraged them to spread the word. I setup a Facebook page, entitled Montgomery County Solar Co-op, and invited anyone to the page that lived in the Dayton area.

While attempting to gain support for the initiative, I reached out to the City of Dayton, University of Dayton, and local businesses, including Dayton Beer Company and Mudlick Tap House.

I met with the Mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley, and explained the project. She expressed her support and allowed us to use the City of Dayton’s logo. We also received permission to use the University of Dayton logo after meeting with Professor Kevin Hallinan of the University of Dayton, who created UD’s Master’s Program in Renewable and Clean Energy. Such support from well-respected entities was very beneficial because it added credibility to the project for those unfamiliar with a solar co-op. With the backing of the City of Dayton and UD, we chose to change the name to the Dayton Area Solar Co-op.

Our first information session and launch party was held at Mudlick Tap House in downtown Dayton, and featured a speech from Mayor Whaley. The turnout was excellent, as was the turnout at our second information session at Dayton Beer Company. Suddenly, the number of households expressing interest in going solar grew to over 40 households in the Dayton area.  

We had reached our critical mass of 30-40 potential roofs to place panels on, which was necessary prior to moving on to the request for proposal (“RFP”) phase.  Because of the level of interest, Luke and I decided to divide the Co-op into two geographic areas—Dayton Area Solar Co-ops North and South with State Route 35 as the dividing line. This would give us approximately 20 households in each Co-op.

The RFP phase began with Solar United Neighbors of Ohio reaching out to various solar installation companies in Ohio, requesting proposals or bids to be the sole installer for each Co-op.  A handful of each Co-op’s membership volunteered to review the proposals and compare apples-to-apples: the price per watt, types of panels, experience of the installers, etc.

In the end, the North Co-op selected Ohio Power Solutions and the South Co-op selected Appalachian Renewable Power.  From that point forward, individuals that had signed on to the Co-ops were contacted by the selected installers, who then evaluated each homeowner’s property to determine the suitability for solar.

The installers provided full estimates for homeowners, and the homeowners then decided whether to move forward with the contract and project or not. To date, we have 7 happy homeowners with new solar panel systems installed, powering their homes directly from the sun, while lowering their energy bills.

The number of installed projects continues to grow with additional solar arrays in the planning process. The more people see our solar panels and hear about the savings,the more their interest grows. We are encouraged and excited each time we hear about another project moving forward.

It is amazing for me personally to stop and reflect on the fact that less than a year and a half ago, this all started because we wanted solar on our garage. If you are inspired by Dayton’s effort to go solar, I highly recommend reaching out to Luke Sulfridge at Solar United Neighbors of Ohio to start a co-op in your own community!