May 29, 2015

Field Notes: Rethinking Clean Power in Urban Neighborhoods

Evergreen Cooperatives

By Erick Rodriguez, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow

The current Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows share their ideas, inspirations and photos from the field on our blog. Learn more about the Fellowship.

Energy production in Ohio generates the fourth highest carbon footprint in the country. The industrial past of the region weighs heavily on the economic prosperity and environmental health of many rustbelt cities. As a result, the legacy of the Midwest can be overshadowed by a prolonged history of population decline, a deflated job market, and disinvestment from the urban cores. Places like Cleveland, Oberlin, and other cities in the region are looking to pursue renewable energy as an opportunity for new economic growth. Investments from the philanthropic community, anchor institutions, and local business are leading the way to make renewable energy a robust driver in the economic future of Northeast Ohio. The move towards distributive energy and clean power sources is being identified as critical part of rebuilding communities that are resilient and economically prosperous in the 21st century.

As part of the Fellowship, I am working with my host organizations to outline the challenges and opportunities resulting from recent projects to bring clean power to the city. We are working to understand the development of these projects and the opportunities they create for the long-term sustainability of the environment and the neighborhood redevelopment.

The following projects are setting the course for the development of advanced and renewable technologies for Northeast Ohio.

Reutilizing Vacant Land to Produce Clean Energy

Municipal entities, institutions, and entrepreneurs are interested in the clean energy business in Cleveland neighborhoods for several reasons. For municipal entities, it can be a strategy to drive new investment into underutilized vacant properties. Utilities may use the accessibility of large tracts of land to build capacity for renewable energy, especially if mandated through policy. For investors, it is an attractive option to make a return by capitalizing on federal incentive programs. Ultimately, the primary host of the system will have access to major savings for the operational costs and will reduce their environmental impacts.

A prime example of this is a large scale solar project at the Cuyahoga Municipal Housing Authority (CMHA) Headquarters in the Kinsman neighborhood. The 1MW solar array was developed to offset the operational cost of energy for the 83,000 square foot office building. The project was installed in 2012 in partnership with the municipal utility and a third party developer. The third party owns and operates the system through a 15 year term Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with a life expectancy of 30 years for the project. The 3 million dollar project was entirely funded through financing from Key Bank, the federal renewable energy, and new market tax credits. At the moment, other entities across the city are considering this model of renewable energy development since the Federal Investment Tax Credit begins to phase out at the end of 2016.

Using Cooperatives in the Green Economy to Stimulate Wealth Building Opportunities

The growth of jobs in the green economy is an opportunity to rethink the model of educating a new workforce to meet the manufacturing and service needs of a growing renewable energy sector. In Northeast Ohio, the formation of the Evergreen Cooperatives in 2008 is prototyping a place-based economic development strategy. The Ohio Solar Cooperative, the solar arm of Evergreen Cooperatives, is in the business of installing and operating large solar arrays on institutional buildings in Cleveland and conducting weatherization for homes throughout the city. The cooperative hires locally trained individuals and gives them an opportunity to become shareholders after a few years with the company. The worker-owned business creates wealth building opportunities and enables these individuals to put their technical skill sets to practice. These cooperatives are allowing economic benefits to support local manufacturing, and simultaneously stabilizing neighborhoods by creating quality jobs for individuals in distressed communities.

Encouraging the Spread of Residential Solar

The Solarize Cleveland project is a bulk purchase program that offers residents in five counties of Northeast Ohio a turnkey solution to acquire discounted solar energy. The national public-private partnership includes the World Wildlife Fund and corporate partners like 3M, Kimberley-Clark, and Cisco. The firm Geostellar manages the program to connect participants with free online tools to map out a preliminary solar assessment, various solar financing options, and connects them with local installers. Although the benefits remain closely aligned with middle income households the idea is to use this project to expand the presence of solar in homes throughout the region. By accomplishing this goal, the projects can also begin to grow the confidence of lenders in the residential solar market.

Solarize Cleveland - Image by Appropriately Applied Technologies
Installation for Solarize Cleveland

Developing a Comprehensive Community Energy Plan

In the upcoming months, a set of collaborative working sessions will explore the potential for a comprehensive community energy plan in several Cleveland neighborhoods. The sessions will include the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, Enterprise Community Partners, local stakeholders, and national leaders in the energy development sector. A national expert will facilitate the discussion by providing compelling economic and environmental benefits of coordinated infrastructure enhancements that may include a large scale solar, building energy efficiencies, and a district energy system. The investigation will set out to accomplish some of the following outcomes:

  • Identify critical infrastructure and energy needs of community partners
  • Outline Ohio specific policy barriers related to the development of district energy systems
  • Assess the potential for district scale interconnectivity between developments along the W25th corridor.
  • Engage local utility company (Cleveland Public Power) to assess the regulatory barriers with the proposed systems and projects.

This work is being developed with support from Enterprise Community Partners to ensure that the neighborhood reinvestment of communities can be maximized through a collaborative process to create sustainable and equitable communities for all residents. The findings will be compiled into a document and shared with city leaders, residents, and other community development organizations to make clean power a priority in the long-term economic revitalization of neighborhoods.

HKS - MH Campus - aerial1
The MetroHealth Campus Transformation rendering by HKS Architects

About the Author: Erick is working with Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) and Burten, Bell, Carr (BBC) Development, Inc. to further the development of the EcoDistrict framework and to enhance coordination and collaboration across Cleveland neighborhoods with a broad group of community stakeholders. The City of Cleveland, BBC and DSCDO are contributing to an international dialogue about the development and implementation of EcoDistricts, and Erick is crafting a comprehensive set of strategies that will serve as a useful tool, for both city leaders and community members, to recognize ways their neighborhoods can come together to appropriate sustainability as an essential part of their community.

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