On sunny days, the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center in Columbus, Ind., glistens in a way it hasn’t before. Rows of solar panels line the rooftops of several of its buildings, generating renewable energy – and saving money.
The center is just one nonprofit benefiting from the Solar Uniting Neighbors program (SUN), which provides some of Indiana’s most vulnerable communities with access to solar energy.
The program, which launched in 2017 and is administered by Prosperity Indiana, distributed $400,000 from a Duke Energy legal settlement to 10 community organizations across the state.
So far, the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center has saved on its electric bill, said Diane Doup, who manages community outreach for the center. “Being a small nonprofit, every penny in our budget matters,” she said. “When we save on our utility bills – like the solar panels enable us to do – those dollars are shared with our neighbors through programming and bridging their households through crises.”
For example, she said, a single mom came to the center in need of employment. The center arranged for child care so she could focus on interviewing. She landed a job but needed a uniform and transportation, and the center provided a gas card so she could get to and from her first two weeks of work.
“The outcomes and impact on recipient organizations and their beneficiaries have been diverse and significant,” said Jessica Love, executive director of Prosperity Indiana. Over an 18-month period, she said, recipient organizations saw an average decrease of $3,320 in electric costs.
In addition to costs, the panels are good for the environment. So far, Love said, the panels have eliminated over 96,000 pounds of emissions, the equivalent of planting 2,442 trees.
Cincinnati-based Andrew Ritch, wholesale renewable manager with Duke Energy, works to promote these types of renewable technologies in a variety of places and sizes throughout Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
He says many factors play into the successes at solar sites such as these. Location, connection to the grid and community approval mean solar installation can be tricky. “We want to help more vulnerable citizens to have access to solar that – right now – maybe they can’t,” Ritch said.
For many in Indiana, those solar panels mean the sun shines a little more brightly these days.
How the SUN program helped nonprofits
- Community Action Program of Evansville and Vanderburgh County’s (CAPE) Head Start classroom project resulted in a drop in monthly utility bills from $80-$130 to under $10.
- A resident at CAPE’s Homes of Oakland City project who received solar panels reported an average decrease of 50% in her monthly Duke Energy bills.
- Money saved as a result of solar panel installation went toward Pace Community Action Agency’s SuperMENtor program, which partners men with Head Start students to read to and provide role models for the children, plus Boys & Beyond, which provides life-skills training and leadership building for low-income boys ages 9-11.
- Thrive Alliance, which helps house low- to moderate-income people ages 55 and up, installed solar panels on a 25-unit residence. Because it saved on energy costs, Thrive froze the rent for 2019, which it would typically raise by $10.
- Harrison County Community Services saw a 38.5% decrease in costs. With its savings, it bought food to help supply its food pantry.