Nearly a decade ago GreenCityBlueLake conducted a carbon footprint analysis of seven counties in Northeast Ohio. All emissions from fossil fuel use in rank order by tonnage found that 50% of the 64 tons on average (2005) came from energy generation (mostly coal). Second was transportation at 28% or nearly 18 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per person, which is above the national average by about 3%.
Flash forward to the present. Greenhouse gas emissions from energy production continue to rise (+ 4% since 1990) due to increased demand. Transportation, due to factors like sprawl, increased to 27% of total carbon emissions (vehicle miles travelled increased 40% since 1990).
Finding ways to reduce carbon emissions from energy generation and transportation is where the Cuyahoga County Department of Sustainability has focused much of its energy for the last two and a half years since it was formed. Former State Representative Mike Foley was tapped to lead the department, and he hired Shanelle Smith as deputy director.
The department has notched some notable accomplishments. (Full disclosure: GreenCityBlueLake worked with the department to develop a Sustainability Codes Toolkit for the 59 municipalities in the county).
In July of 2016, they made waves by announcing a deal to purchase 8.6% of the clean energy flowing from Project Icebreaker, the 20 megawatt Lake Erie wind farm. It gave a big boost to the project as an added and dedicated off-taker of the power. Locally, CPP is agreeing to purchase 25% of the total power (enough for 6,500 homes) when the turbines are built.
In addition to the wind project, the county struck a deal to install over 15,000 solar panels on a former landfill site in Brooklyn, Ohio. The county will lease the landfill to generate 4 megawatts of clean energy and use the electricity in its buildings through another agreement with CPP.
Why has the county decided to become a dealmaker on renewable energy?
“I think that we have to,” says Foley, “we have no choice.” Federal backsliding on clean energy is “just demoralizing,” he adds.
With his former colleagues at the Ohio Legislature still out to kill the renewable portfolio standard, it has fallen to local governments.
“It’s not something we traditionally do a lot of,” he concedes, “but we have an opportunity and, I think, a duty, to pick up the slack and encourage clean energy production.”
Helping get the landfill solar project done was a drop in clean energy prices.
“The cost of equipment and installation have gone down as more projects get done,” Foley says, adding that the county signed a contract to purchase the power for 10 years.
Cleveland Urban Renewable Power, a single purpose entity, will own the panels for six years with the backing of an investor in federal renewable energy tax credits bringing 30% of the development cost. The county’s power purchase agreement supplies 70% of development cost. All of the power will be used by the county through a “virtual net metering agreement” with Cleveland Public Power.
When the Lake Erie wind farm and the Brooklyn solar farm are operable they will supply 9-10% in solar and 15% in wind of the total power for 17 county buildings. The deal struck with CPP will bring down the county’s expense for power by around a cent per kilowatt hour.
Then, there’s the department’s Energy Finance Hub, which helps businesses and nonprofit entities fund energy efficiency and renewable projects. It is ready to take flight, Foley reports.
“We have a financier willing to do PACE projects,” he explains that renewables will be financed through a lien on a property with the energy savings paying back the loan.
“We just finalized, with the Advanced Energy District, a Cuyahoga PACE system,” he says referring to the 25 suburbs who signed a cooperative agreement in 2012. At least one project is in the pipeline.
Closer to home, the county can offer free energy audits with Empower, a new utility operating in Northeast Ohio. An audit can show where your home wastes energy (and find a loan to fix the problems of energy leaks).
Another path to install renewables is the Oh Sun Solar, co-op program which is already helping 40 homeowners finance solar panels on their roofs.
To encourage the use of low-carbon modes of transportation, the county department took the lead on Cleveland’s new bikeshare system, UHBikes. The county is the fiscal agent of the bikeshare system, securing a government grant of $275,000 for the initial deployment of 25 stations downtown and in University Circle. Anyone can pay twelve cents a minute to ride a shiny red bike and check it back into any location in the system.
Looking ahead, the department has set its sights on looking for other landfills to potentially put solar on, creating a 2017-18 larger residential solar co-op, and working with local universities and the City of Cleveland on the feasibility of developing local microgrids in Cleveland.