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Published on February 27th, 2012 | by Andrew

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Groups Look to Locally Grown Solar Power to Revitalize Ohio Communities

February 27th, 2012 by  


 
Cupertino, CA-based Locally Grown Power and IdealPV are partnering with Mansfield, Ohio’s North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC) to launch the first of what it believes can be a series of local, community-centered and vertically integrated solar photovoltaic (PV) businesses.

Photo courtesy: First Solar

Private and public in nature, NECIC and Locally Grown Power’s initial proposal to the Richland County Commission was met with enthusiasm, as it addresses several critical issues faced by communities across the county: job creation, local government fiscal problems, and the rising overall and true cost of energy amongst them.

Locally Grown and Consumed Solar PV: The Potential to Revitalize Communities

NECIC and Locally Grown Power are proposing a public-private partnership that would see the establishment of a solar PV assembly plant and installation program based on Ideal PV’s low cost, patent-pending solar PV technology. The partners say that the initiative would cut local, municipal government’s (and hence the community’s) energy costs by one-third; this at a time when Mansfield’s government is considering shutting down the city’s street lights due to budgetary shortfalls.

Extended to include voluntary solar PV installations in the community, the savings would be extended to local residents and businesses. Local government would start realizing cost savings immediately upon installation. Local residents and businesses would then realize the same savings as the initiative moved ahead with the installation of solar panels on homes and businesses across the community for those who opt in to the plan. The solar panels could be installed at very low, or even no cost, with cost savings on utility bills initially dedicated to repaying project financing.

The locally grown solar PV project would also give a much needed boost to the community in terms of job creation. More than 440 jobs would be created, offering gainful, socially and environmentally beneficial, and productive employment to displaced, under- and unemployed local residents, according to the project partners. Additional economic stimulus would result from sourcing solar PV components locally, the project partners note.

“Solar energy produces a lasting increase in consumer Disposable Personal Income (DPI) and manufacturing requires a network of subcontractors and suppliers,” Locally Grown Power/IdealPV founder Kent Kernahan pointed out. “Putting both solar energy and manufacturing into the same local economy is designed to permanently ignite a virtuous cycle creating maximum jobs, income and demand.

“In the case of Richland County Locally Grown Power, we are looking at a county wide increase of $20M/Yr in DPI and 2,000 direct and indirect jobs into a community of 100,000 Americans”, he said, noting that as of March, 2011 Richland County reported a labor force of 58,474 and unemployed of 6,440 (11%).

Moreover, NECIC and Locally Grown Power’s project has the added advantage of a quick start. It would take about 4-1/2 months to get the program operational and one year to reach the project’s initial energy savings goals.

“We could be more energy independent, and we’re visualizing what (would happen) if every home in Richland County that wanted it had solar panels on its roof,” NECIC community organizer Jean Taddie told Richland County Commissioners in their initial February meeting, according to a Mansfield News Journal report. “We see it as a long-term impact to drawing interest in our housing.”

A Solar-Powered, Public-Private Partnership

NECIC and Locally Grown Power’s proposal envisages a public-private partnership that would buy a 30,000-square-foot building and the equipment required to assemble the solar panels. The $6.2 million in start-up costs would be raised through a combination of funding sources, including municipal bonds, government grants, and private investment.

“The operation would employ 440 people in living-wage jobs and provide solar panels to homes and government facilities at low or no cost, organizers said. Energy savings, renewable energy credits, tax credits and other diverse revenue streams would cover operating costs,” according to the report.

Richland County Commissioner Ed Olson noted that a three-phase, $3-million energy retrofit project at county facilities has saved enough in energy costs for the county that it will pay for itself in five years.

The Richland County proposal is the result of discussions NECIC has been having with Locally Grown Power and IdealPV, two companies founded by successful inventor and entrepreneur Kent Kernahan and based in Cupertino, CA.

Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and the Economic Multiplier

The two California companies’ core motivating principles are based on “Inventor Nationalism,” and American ingenuity as applied to the design, engineering, and manufacturing of low-cost, patent-pending solar photovoltaic (PV) panels for the benefit,  first and foremost, of the local communities in which they are built.

Kernahan and partners have been using a set of criteria to search for a US community willing and able to put its Locally Grown Power concept to the test. If successful, the model is one that can be replicated across towns and cities in the Midwest and across the US.

In looking for candidate sites for Locally Grown Power, the following criteria were considered, Kernahan explained:

  • Complete manufacturing workforce from management through quality.
  • Structural unemployment due to change in industrial base or outsourcing.
  • Willingness to improve economic conditions by direct action.
  • Effective community organization in place.
  • Demonstrated interest in alternative energy.
  • Existing Renewable Energy Certificate program.
  • Local supply chain for components.

Mansfield and Richland County, Ohio qualify on all counts. The “hollowing out” (read loss) of manufacturing companies and jobs has been hurting residents for decades now. The project partners see the proposal as the means to counteracting and reversing that trend.

Investment in manufacturing has a greater positive economic impact on communities than equivalent service sector investments, or any other type of investment. That’s the linchpin for Locally Grown Power’s public-private sector business model, and it’s an attribute that Pres. Obama and his team have picked up and are trying to capitalize on in the recently announced “Blueprint for an America Built to Last.”

Amplifying this would be the effect of leveraging residential solar PV to produce and consume power locally. That would keep dollars within the community economy that otherwise would be ‘exported’ outside it. 
 

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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.



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