Students advocate for community solar in Ohio

By Solar United Neighbors on December 19, 2023

On a chilly December morning, a group of 30 high school students boarded a bus in Cleveland bound for Columbus, Ohio. This wasn’t a typical school trip. They weren’t heading to a band competition or a museum. They were going to the state Capitol to have a word with their lawmakers.

They wanted to talk with lawmakers about community solar. The Ohio legislature is considering a bill, House Bill 197, to enable community solar in the state. This would allow people to buy a share of the energy produced by small, local solar projects. This arrangement can bring the benefits of solar energy to people who couldn’t otherwise access them.

The students came from Laurel School, Lakewood High School, and Cleveland School of the Arts. Many of them met each other for the first time on the bus. Their shared interest in clean energy brought them together.

“I firmly believe that we, the people have a right to clean, affordable, and easily accessible renewable energy,” said Melissa, a student at the Cleveland School of the Arts. “And I believe House Bill 197 is the way to finally make that possible.”

When they arrived at the capitol building, they met Representative Terrence Upchurch. He told them about the bill the legislature is considering. It would introduce the first-ever community solar pilot program in Ohio.

The students then broke into smaller groups to meet for half-hour discussions with individual legislators. They had prepared themselves beforehand with thoughtful questions to spur engaging conversations. Upon regrouping, the students took a guided tour of the statehouse.

Their final activity was to settle in and listen to the opening of the House legislative session. At the start of the House session, Representative Michael Skindell acknowledged the students on the House floor. As the students stood to be recognized, they were commended for their leadership and civic engagement.

Community solar mattered to the students because it could directly benefit them. Moreover, it could benefit their families and their neighborhoods. Some of them had families interested in subscribing to a community solar project. Others likely knew people pursuing a career in the solar industry. And for all of them, local renewable energy meant cleaner air and a brighter energy future.

The students knew it was important for legislators to hear from younger constituents. A key factor in the lawmakers’ decision will come down to how many Ohioans support the bill. The students represented a group that representatives didn’t hear from often. This made their voices all the more impactful.

Advocating for community solar wasn’t the only thing the students achieved. They also had a memorable learning experience while visiting the Capitol. They learned about how the legislative process works. Asalé, a student at Laurel School, said, “We’ve been intrigued and interested by multiple house bills, but specifically HB 197. So we’re really excited to come here and learn more, to broaden our own knowledge, and to continue to grow and be part of this.”

Importantly, the students saw how their actions could have a positive impact. This had been a major goal of the event, which was organized by Solar United Neighbors, Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE), and Black Environmental Leaders.