By Rhyann Green

On Earth Day 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it will award a $100,000 grant to the Sustainable Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC) with funds drawn from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which was last established in the 2018 Farm Bill.

SOPEC, which has provided free solar assessments since 2016 with the help of solar installation companies, will use the grant to provide solar assessments to over 200 Ohio businesses, including 50 agricultural producers and 50 small businesses. The grant reception was highlighted by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown in a press release from late April.

“Ensuring rural businesses and agricultural producers have access to solar technology is essential as we build resilient local economics and a strong domestic clean energy sector,” Brown said.

According to the press release, Brown supported the 2008 Farm Bill which originated the REAP. Brown was also the first Ohio legislator to sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee for over 50 years and has continued to advocate for clean energy and rural development during the past decade, including within the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills.

Going forward, the council is planning to hire independent solar contractors to carry out the assessments. Once the evaluation is complete, recipients will receive a complete report estimating the cost of a solar installation that will be based on an average cost across local solar installation companies. After the assessment is acquired, they may qualify to submit their results to the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant application.

Matthew Robert, Director of Marketing for SOPEC, expects paperwork to be finalized in the coming weeks to complete assessments over the next year. SOPEC will reach out to recruit businesses and individuals to receive the estimates. Applications are also open on the SOPEC website.

Roberts believes the program promises to go far beyond the assessment and estimates.

“I think beyond providing a really solid report for businesses or agricultural producers, … [the program’s] true value is providing education to those applicants,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about solar…. I think they all end up learning a lot.”