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Yellow Springs Development Co. awarded $100,00 energy grant

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Last month, the Yellow Springs Development Corporation, or YSDC, was awarded a $100,000 rural energy grant on behalf of Yellow Springs and Miami Township from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant includes in-kind mentorship services and makes YSDC eligible to apply for an additional $200,000 in future project funding.

YSDC is among 67 winners from “rural and remote communities” across the United States receiving funding from phase one of the Department of Energy-managed $6.7 million Energizing Rural Communities grant.

As stated in a July 17 press release from the Department of Energy, or DOE, the purpose of the grant is to “challenge individuals and organizations to develop partnership and financing strategies that support community-driven energy improvement projects in rural or remote communities.”

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The award is part of a $1 billion Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas, or ERA, program, which is a fixture of the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations. ERA was created as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to “demonstrate new ways to improve the resilience, reliability, safety,  availability and environmental performance of energy systems serving our nation’s rural or remote areas with populations of no more than 10,000 people.”

According to YSDC interim Executive Director Lisa Abel, YSDC found out about the opportunity through Village Council member Marianne MacQueen and her involvement with Power a Clean Future Ohio. The organization, along with Midwest ROOTS and Great Plains Institute, hosted an informational webinar about the federal grant last spring.

“There’s an organization that works both on a local and regional level to help connect people with grant opportunities, especially around renewable energy,” Abel said. “Basically, their mission is to connect rural communities that don’t always have the infrastructure to just look for grants all the time.”

The webinar hosts also offered feedback about the types of projects that could be funded.

“They said, ‘We’ll also help you vet your ideas.’ You know, to see if these are grant-worthy,” Abel said.

Abel said her ideas around renewable energy were inspired by passionate discussions that took place during Miami Township Trustees meetings about the proposed Kingwood Solar project. Had it been approved, 175-megawatt, utility-scale solar panels would have been sited on several acres of farmland in Miami and Cedarville townships. In Dec. 2022, the Ohio Power Siting Board denied the application submitted by Texas-based Vesper Energy.

“I had a couple different ideas and most of the feedback they gave was, ‘Yeah, that would probably work,’” Abel said. “I decided on the angle around renewable energy. I had attended at least one of the Township meetings where there was a lot of discussion around the industrial size-solar panels that were going to be put in. … I started thinking that what we could probably do is community solar, which is much smaller — not even a 10th the size of these other things.”

After reaching out to Miami Township Trustee Marilyn Moir and Village Council President Brian Housh, she decided to request “money to help … with this upfront community process.”

Abel noted that YSDC is not asking for project money, but rather is looking at the feasibility of a renewable energy project in the community.

“If they’re going to give us money, let’s hire someone that can do the facilitation, and let’s hire some technical experts who can advise on all the things we think we have questions about, and all the things we haven’t even thought of yet,” she said.

According to Abel one of the next steps of the process is to plan a series of community input sessions.

“Mid-to-late September, we should have a plan on community input sessions, so be looking for those,” she said.

Abel added that she is unsure of how the recent resignation of Village Manager Josué Salmerón will affect the process.

“I’m sure that professionally this is good for [Salmerón], but he did have four years here. He knows a lot about how all this stuff works and how a utility works in Yellow Springs. I haven’t talked with [Public Works Director] Johnnie [Burns],” she said. “I’m hoping that Johnnie is also a good source for [understanding] how this works. But that may become part of our technical expert need, to have someone else help us figure this out.”

Abel also asked that the community have some patience as they start the process of community engagement planning.

“I would always ask that people be patient with the process. What I don’t want is all the opposition before we even have a chance to take the first step,” Abel said. “Sometimes people are opposed, and they don’t even know what they’re opposed to. We will be involving the public, we’ll be trying to figure out if this is even a fit.”

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