Upgrade Athens County, in partnership with the City and County of Athens, Ohio commit to implement solar development efforts on a community scale, end-use efficiency for residential and municipal customers, and community solar through the school system. Upgrade Athens County is a multi-faceted energy campaign coordinated by the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council with regional cross-sector partners.
The Upgrade Athens solar and energy efficiency implementation plan has several major elements. First, it will develop solar energy through an aggregation model, supported by municipal and county accounts. This aggregation will result in the fifth largest solar energy project in the state of Ohio, built locally in Athens County. Solar development efforts are in the earliest stages.
Second, it will green local schools. Energy efficiency opportunities will be prioritized and developed in participating school districts. Using the savings from these installations frees the school systems up for more investment in solar energy infrastructure. Solar energy will then be developed, on site with the schools. Support for the projects will come from the community; ownership in the project will be directly marketed to community members. The projects, which will average 1MW per school, will be community owned and will be visible everyday models to citizens and students alike.
Third, Athens has demanded from its providers and partners a unique low cost/high impact residential energy efficiency program that will dramatically reduce a homeowners utility bill that it will deliver savings greater than the homeowner's investment from the moment it is installed. Understanding that whole house energy efficiency renovations are unaffordable to most Athens homeowners, the UpGrade Athens and its chosen energy efficiency provider has created a product of inexpensive, basic energy savings measures. When taken alone these simple measures will provide the highest impact of savings for the homeowner10 to 30% off their utility bills. The package includes upgrading attic insulation to its ultimate level, repairing and sealing exterior leaks of cooling and heating, the installation of a smart thermostat that automatically controls energy usage, and EE lighting. Using the buying power from their aggregation, Athens is able to negotiate these needs at an incredibly low cost. While whole home retrofits could cost homeowners up to $15,000, this high impact, basic installation on an average Athens entity should not exceed $2,500. And when utility rebates are applied to it, the cost to a homeowner could drop under $1,000. UpGrade Athens has also overcome the other barriers to homeowner uptake by designing a streamlined home energy audit. And they have also engaged a residential lender that will provide loans to homeowners with as low as a 600 FICO score. This turnkey program---low cost/high impact product, streamlined audit, installation, funding---all offered as one product to the homeowner. On top of that, Athens has contracted a digital customer acquisition company and is embarking on a neighborhood by neighborhood grass roots selling program to maximize uptake.
To organize, oversee, and implement these major energy innovations, a coalition of some of the most highly involved community organizations formed.
Located in the heart of Appalachia, progressive Athens County and the City of Athens are innovating this regional model that they hope communities and states will replicate. Already, the cities of Cleveland, Dayton, and Columbus are all in some stage of repeating the Athens model.
Build Municipal and County Solar off-take arrangements with supply utilities.
Start installation of school energy efficiency programming prior to solar integration.
Finish previous 50 home test group. For solar energy, put out RFP to commodity supply companies to integrate traditional energy supply with local solar development. Local development parameters will be fixed and finalized.
Finalize school energy efficiency installations. Start work on Community Solar off take agreements.
Tighten processes and procedures for energy efficiency options. If uptake is strong and product offerings looking good, begin community marketing efforts through events, festivals, media, press, and other resources. Finalize products for the tenant-landlord sector.
Finalize community solar schools ownership offer to community members.
Finalize solar project development arrangements. Feed solar options into the municipal and county supply. Sign construction agreements on 3 MW project.
Kick-off community solar school ownership opportunity.
Start construction of 3MW project for municipal and county accounts.
Begin large-scale heating season roll out of energy efficiency options for residents. Heighten media awareness, community marketing efforts, and set ambitious retrofit goals. Our goal for the heating season is 300 homes.
Last Quarter of 2015:
Sell all tranches of Community Solar Schools project.
Continue project development of 3MW project.
Hit monthly sales targets to reach and exceed 150 targets (half of the 300 heating season target).
Build community and neighbor-to-neighbor customer engagement effort.
First Quarter of 2016:
Start Construction on Solar Schools projects.
Finish and place into service 3MW project.
Hit 150 targets, the other half of the 300 heating season target.
Second Quarter of 2016:
Continue Solar Schools construction effort.
Gear up marketing effort for heating season.
Set new County retrofit target; likely 450 homes.
Finalize creation of Landlord-Tenant program.
Third Quarter of 2016:
Install final components of Solar Schools projects, power begins to flow to schools and community.
Hit monthly sales targets to reach and exceed 225 targets (half of the 450 heating season target).
Begin landlord offerings for Athens.
Fourth Quarter of 2016:
Work through remaining 225 homes in the 450 heating season target.
Through 2017 and 2018:
1850 Unit goal for next two heating seasons.
Low and middle income homeowners are seeing a larger portion of their still stagnant incomes going to pay the rising cost of electric and gas rates. No area in Ohio has felt the pain of generational poverty more than the 13 county Appalachian Ohio region. Their communities are populated by aging housing stock that leaks cooling and heat excessively, driving utility payments even higher. Athens is in Ohios coal country, a region that has historically had to rely on extractive industries to survive. The region needs a transition to a more sustainable economic driver.
Separately, over the last decade, Ohio has put in place and used a tool called aggregation. Along with six or seven other states, Ohio is allowing communities, or a collection of communities, the right to aggregate their homeowners into a power buying group that could negotiate lower rates. But the discounts communities can negotiate are narrowing; and new ways to save consumers money need to be developed.
The Athens City and County aggregation plan is unique in issuing Request for Proposals (RFP), asking for bids to develop competitive solar generation and to develop an ambitious energy efficiency program that every home and small business in Athens could afford to install. This differs from the general community aggregation model that centers on a bidding process to select the lowest cost provider of traditional electricity. Athens has used, and will continue to use, its buying power to demand local energy options that save consumers money, keep dollars in the region, and put people to work.