An Ohio green bank could be the answer to doubling the solar power output in Cuyahoga County in five years, a study recently found. Based on the study, the investment fund would need to be $13 million in funds provided by the public and charitable sources.
The study, partially financed by the county government, was completed by researchers from the Coalition for Green Capital. The Washington, D.C. nonprofit works with local governments to secure financing for clean energy projects and recommended that the Ohio green bank be used to create loans to benefit the development of solar farms.
Researchers found that one of the biggest roadblocks for small-scale solar development is being able to finance the projects. Compared to energy produced by coal and natural gas, solar energy is more expensive, creating tight profit margins for developers. The low-interest, long-term loans would provide developers the option to borrow up to $17 million from lenders to fund solar panel installations on small businesses. They would then be able to sell the electricity generated to the business.
Where Cuyahoga County will run into issues is with its own budget. As of the time of the study, the Ohio county had not budgeted for the project in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, County Executive Armond Budish has recommended spending cuts, making funding the loans difficult.
The Cleveland Foundation and George Gund Foundation, both of which funded the study, have not committed a specific amount to the Ohio green bank. The Gund Foundation has stated it is “seriously considering” investing, but The Cleveland Foundation has not responded to initial requests for comment on the matter.
Despite the current issues of having no budget set aside to fund the loans, Budish expressed excitement. “It positions us well to come out of the current COVID crisis by tackling another crisis that may not be top of mind for some but that continues to loom,” he said.
Providing small businesses with fixed energy rates from solar panels they didn’t pay for is a crucial step in ramping up green energy production in Cuyahoga County. Estimates from the study also suggest projects associated with the Ohio green bank could create more than 450 jobs and reduce CO2 emissions equivalent to 140,000 passenger vehicles.