"5 Questions With" Tom Bullock, Executive Director of Citizens Utility Board of Ohio (CUB-OH)

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1. Tell us about the Citizens Utility Board of Ohio (CUB Ohio) and your broad aspirations for the organization.

The Citizens Utility Board of Ohio (CUB Ohio) is a statewide utility consumer nonprofit working on behalf of residential and small business utility customers. With membership across the state, we work for cheaper bills, reliable service, transparency, consumer rights, and clean, healthy energy delivered equitably.

We officially began our work just weeks before the FBI raided former Ohio Speaker Householder as part of a far-reaching corruption case related to HB 6, so opportunity to make an impact began immediately and extended into more venues, leading to program work at a faster pace and on a larger number of items than anticipated—in the state legislature, with local governments, and before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).

Technology is also disrupting the energy industry opening up new opportunities for better pricing, smarter energy use, and cleaner power if the Buckeye State embraces innovation. CUB Ohio is a voice for sharping this transition to consumers’ benefit. The power to achieve all of this—to hold utilities accountable, keep costs under control, breath clean air, and address environmental justice—is in the hands of consumers, when we organize together.

2. What is HB 450 and why is CUB Ohio a leader in drafting and advocating for the legislation?

HB 450 would create legal authority in Ohio to build and operate community solar project, currently not permitted. As bill sponsors, Reps. Brian Baldridge and Laura Lanese, describe, HB 450 would remove red tape to open a new market sector in the energy industry, attract investment, create jobs, drive innovation, support a stronger and more resilient grid, and provide access to consumers and small businesses affordably-priced solar power.

As a consumer organization, CUB Ohio supports community solar since it creates new options for affordably-priced clean energy for consumers and will diversify Ohio’s energy mix with stable, low-price clean power, which will be important for affordability in the coming years. More specifically, HB 450 would allow electric utility customers who want solar but cannot put panels on their own roofs to have access to solar power at a lower price. It allows consumers to affordably convert their power supply to Ohio-generated, zero-emission power from medium-sized, offsite solar systems whose power is shared, or subscribed to, by multiple users. The net result for those subscribers is similar to that for consumers who install panels on their own property.

There are many reasons why consumers may not be able to install solar on their own property. They may:

  • Lack sufficient space for ground-mounted solar.
  • Have a roof whose condition, surface, is not conducive to solar.
  • Have a roof whose orientation or configuration is not conducive to solar (lacking sufficient south- or west-facing surface area).
  • Have large trees shading the area, making solar unviable.
  • Rent their home, lacking legal authority to modify the property upon which they live.
  • Live in a large multi-family property, the roof of which will be small compared to the power load.
  • Be about to sell their property or face other uncertainty about their ownership status, thereby creating reluctance on the part of the owner to install a solar system.
  • Lack finances to afford construction of a solar system.

For consumers meeting any of the above circumstances, community solar is a great option since it overcomes each one.

The owner of the community solar system pays the upfront costs to build, maintain, and connect it to the power grid. Consumers subscribe to a portion of the project’s monthly output sized to energy demand of the home or business. Consumers who move to a new home or location within the same utility territory can take their subscription with them.

3. How can Community Solar benefit a community and are there any states that are considered Community Solar leaders?

Community solar as proposed in HB 450 will have significant economic development benefits to communities.  The current version of the legislation proposed 1,000 megawatts of greenfield solar capacity and up to another 500 megwatts on brownfields and other distressed properties. These can include landfills, coal ash ponds, properties eligible for new market tax credits, and more. As one investor and analyst told CUB Ohio, “The economy has trouble monetizing certain types of land, so it sits idle for years. Solar is a great option to get these properties contributing to the tax base.”

Nationally, four states described by industry waters as early adopters `in piloting community solar policies and deploying projects include Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, and Colorado.

4. What are the prospects for the Ohio legislation?

Its prospects are strong and improving. In the next few weeks, we anticipate further work in the Ohio House of Representatives to move forward with amendments that refine the proposed program and incorporate many good faith efforts to address concerns raised by utilities and other stakeholders during hearings. We are optimistic that a consensus is emerging that will carry this legislation through to final passage.

5. How can Ohio citizens get involved in CUB Ohio and the HB 450 effort?
Simply contact CUB Ohio and we will be happy to discuss how you can get involved with community solar and our other work!

Tom Bullock is Executive Director of CUB Ohio. He has more than twenty-five years’ experience in policy, public relations, and advocacy and has worked with top Ohio government leaders and on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He serves as a city councilman in his hometown of Lakewood.

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