Ohio solar community flocks to Athens for Solar Congress

By Ben Delman on March 15, 2019
Ohio Solar Congress attendees await the day’s events to start.

More than 150 solar energy supporters from across Ohio joined together this past Saturday at the Third Annual Ohio Solar Congress. It was held at Ohio University in Athens in partnership with the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. The Congress was an opportunity for grassroots solar supporters to meet, share stories, and celebrate solar energy.

The day kicked off with opening remarks from Luke Sulfridge, Solar United Neighbors of Ohio Program Director. Luke discussed the progress solar has made in the state over the past year and the challenges ahead. Voinovich School Associate Dean Geoff Debelko welcomed the solar community to campus, and spoke about the opportunities that solar presented to the region.

Morning sessions examine solar basics and rural electric cooperatives

The Congress then broke into separate sessions. In the first session, Ohio Advisory Board member and Ohio University Professor Gilbert Michaud led a panel of Voinovich alumni doing cutting edge work and research around solar. Matt Bearzotti from Solar United Neighbors took attendees through a solar 101 information session.

In the second morning session Ohio Advisory Board member David Carpenter discussed steps solar supporters can take to ensure their rural electric cooperative respects their member-owners right to go solar. The morning sessions also saw a discussion about ways to ensure Ohio communities adopt solar in an equitable fashion. The Ohio Energy Table Equity Committee led this session as part of a series of similar conversations happening around the state. Chad Stephens Conservation Program Coordinator of Sierra Club facilitated the session.

The Congress then broke for lunch. During the lunch hour, attendees had an opportunity to check out electric vehicles at the electric vehicle showcase. Ten vehicles participated including Nissan Leafs, both generations of Chevy Volts, a Prius Prime, a Chevy Bolt, a Tesla Model 3, a Mitsubishi Outlander, a Honda Clarion, and even a Brammo electric motorcycle.

Afternoon sessions provide tools to fight for solar rights

After a solar powered lunch (and breakfast) from the Village Bakery, the Congress again broke into sessions. Julie Theado from Krile Communications led a training session to help solar supporters use media to effectively advocate for solar. In another session, Miranda Leppla from the Ohio Environmental Council led a discussion about the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The Appalachian Renewable Energy Consumers Cooperative presented about its work recycling batteries to create residential storage systems. A panel on EVs and charging infrastructure included panelists Mathew Roberts from GoBus, Jimmy Smith from Chargepoint and Michael Smucker from Greenlots.

Solar Congress attendees tour a solar-powered brewery.

The day ended with an open forum discussion led by a panel of energy experts from across Ohio. Rural Action CEO Debbie Phillips spoke of the need and opportunities for just transition in Appalachian Ohio. Rachael Belz, Executive Director of Ohio Citizen Action, spoke about upcoming rate payer issues and threats to renewable energy and communities including the proposed First Energy bailout. Miranda Leppla, Clean Energy Attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, provided insights into solar policy advancements at the statehouse and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Luke Sulfridge facilitated and highlighted the impact that solar is already having on the Ohio economy.

After the event, the conversation continued at Devil’s Kettle Brewing which provided participants a tour of their solar array. Solar United Neighbors would like to thank event supporters Third Sun Solar and YellowLite Solar for making the free event possible.