How Columbus solar panel owners can get a new electric bill discount – NBC4 WCMH-TV

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A new opportunity for Columbus solar panel owners to take money off of their bills has come from a city council vote on Monday.

A new code change approved by the council established a net metering service, which enables Columbus Division of Power customers to sell their unused energy back to the city’s public utilities department. Councilmember Chris Wyche said residents with solar panels on their homes will now have the chance to earn discounts from them.

“It is essentially a billing tool that allows residents who do have solar panels on their homes to sell excess energy back to the grid,” Wyche said. “So, Columbus Division of Power customers now have that option.”

Wyche said residents won’t have to do anything to get the money. All it takes for residents to benefit is to have solar panels on their homes. The money comes in the form of a credit on a resident’s utility bills.

“That is something that the Division of Power will do to monitor how their usage is interacting with the grid, how much they’re pulling down, and how much they’re submitting back to the grid,” Wyche said. “It is pretty much hands-off from their perspective.”

Columbus is working toward its hope of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 with the solar panel code change, as well as another ordinance. Alongside allowing residents to sell their unused energy, a program will connect low-to-moderate-income households with solar systems.

The council also approved the awarding of a 2023 EcoSmart Choice Sustainability Grant in the amount of $167,302.25 from American Municipal Power, Inc. to go toward a contract with Solar United Neighbors (SUN) and IMPACT Community Action. This funding goes to a co-op that helps install solar energy systems in households of residents with low-to-moderate incomes.

Both pieces of legislation passing on the same night couldn’t have been more convenient, according to Wyche.

“The timing is perfect, right? Because having this code change in place means that more folks are incentivized to actually get solar panels on their homes,” Wyche said. “They can truly reap the benefits of having those solar panels.”

The LMI co-op is a partnership program between the City of Columbus, SUN, and IMPACT Community Action. Initially, the program will serve a total of 17 households — Wyche said the new grant funds 11 to 16 — with the goal of expanding in the future. The co-op is free to join, and does not lock customers in to purchasing a system. Once the group is large enough, an installer is selected after submitting bids reviewed by the co-op members. Individual members can then decide if going with solar is right for them.

“The intention is to provide a tangible pathway to residential solar for residents that may not be able to afford the upfront installation costs,” IMPACT Director of Climate Justice Initiatives Katie Devlin said. “As a member of the cohort, eligible households will be able to receive a residential rooftop array and battery system, free of charge to the resident.”

SUN Ohio Program Associate Mryia Williams said the two pieces of legislation go hand in hand. As the city encourages solar energy, the limited number of residents using it needs to grow somehow, and the newly passed ordinances will get solar panels in more Columbus homes while encouraging it for others.

“In Columbus, our Department of Energy only has a handful of customers who currently have solar,” Williams said. “That’s because those were the only ones that could see the economic viability of adding solar to their home.”

Wyche explained why the two pieces of legislation were crucial to a much larger goal: combatting climate change.

“Every month seems to be the hottest month ever on record,” Wyche said. “So, it’s very evident that climate change is real. The more that we can do to kind of make it easy for people to transition to renewable energy, the better we are in the long run. My office has set the goal of Columbus being the greenest city in the country. And it starts with doing simple things.”

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