Editorial: Grant will energize an array of solar in Columbus

Nicholas Hartnett, owner of Pure Power Solar, carries a panel as he and Brian Hoeppner, right, install a solar array on the roof of a home in Frankfort, Ky., in July 2023.

Competition was fierce for $7 billion in federal grant money set aside by the federal government for local solar programs helping low-income communities, but it was announced last week that projects proposed in Columbus were awarded a share of that money.

Columbus-based Energy Matters Community Coalition is part of the combined grant of $117.5 million statewide through the Solar for All Indiana (SFAI) initiative. The grant money was set aside as part of the Inflation Reduction Act’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

As a result, soon — and perhaps over the five-year duration of the grant — you will be seeing an influx of solar panel installations in the Lincoln Central and East Columbus neighborhoods.

Energy Matters board member Mike Mullett said the Columbus Community Solar for All Demonstration Program asked for about $7 million for several projects that are positioned to move forward under the grant, some as early as July. It’s unclear exactly how much will be received locally, he said, because the recipient of the overall grant, The Indiana Community Action Association, Inc., only won about 67% of its total request.

Still, what was proposed for Columbus and funded is ambitious and novel. Some 520 low-income households will benefit directly or indirectly from rooftop solar panels that will help power their homes, or as “subscribers” whose electric bill will be reduced by at least 20%, Mullett said.

As part of the plan, a large installation of solar power panels is proposed at the Bartholomew County United Way Center, 1531 13th St., Columbus. Another 200 households in Lincoln Central and East Columbus will get rooftop solar panels.

This project is a winner any way you slice it. A short list of the benefits:

  • People who need it most will save money on their power bills.
  • Utility companies will gain new low-cost, no-input power sources that will last decades. Excess solar power returned to the grid will enhance and diversify the power portfolio.
  • Taxpayers, utility ratepayers and social service agencies that in some cases subsidize utility costs for low-income households will save money.
  • The projects will boost solar energy and construction companies that successfully bid for installation contracts.
  • Last but not least, solar is a clean, renewable source of energy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Solar power has been a growing part of our energy mix in recent years because economically, it makes long-term sense and it’s environmentally sustainable. But because the upfront installation costs are high, solar has been out of reach for most households and cost-prohibitive for low-income households.

But this grant, and the shovel-ready projects that local stakeholders have designed for Columbus, show that it doesn’t have to be that way.

A few hundred low-income households in Columbus will get solar power as a result of this grant. But from an economic and sustainability standpoint, everyone in the city will benefit.