COLUMBUS, Ohio — An increase in demand for grants to fund solar panels and advanced energy projects in Ohio, along with a shortage of funding, has prompted the state to stop taking requests and left many applicants without thousands of dollars they hoped or expected to get.
The Department of Development stopped taking grant requests for the Advanced Energy Fund in November as money ran out, The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday. The program awarded $15.6 million in grants for 161 solar-panel and wind-turbine projects from July to November, according to records.
More than 200 homeowners and businesses filed grant requests before the cutoff, only to find out they wouldn't get funds from the program this year, according to the newspaper.
A 9-cent fee on most residents' monthly electricity bills paid for the grants, but the fee expired last year and was not reauthorized. The Legislature enacted the fee in 1999, beginning the program with low-interest loans offered to homeowners and businesses. It became a grant program in mid-2006. Since then, it has paid out more than $49 million.
State Rep. Mike Foley, A Democrat from Cleveland, sponsored a bill to extend the fee, but the bill died in the Legislature. He plans to reintroduce it.
It's clear the cutoff has upset people, but the state doesn't have the money to fund the grants, said Chad Smith, interim energy resources director for the Department of Development.
"The (grants) were structured on a first-come, first served basis," Smith said. "From July to November, we did more projects than we ever did in any fiscal year."
The 200-plus applications submitted last year sought nearly $21 million, compared with just $2 million provided for 67 projects five years ago.
Demand may have increased in part because projects have become more financially feasible, especially with the help of state grants and federal tax credits. The cost of solar paneling has decreased significantly over the past few years, said Geoff Greenfield, who co-owns Third Sun Solar in Athens, which installs alternative-energy systems.
Chris Whitemyer of Wooster decided he'd install solar panels on his home after a salesman showed him the state grant would slash the cost from $47,000 to about $8,000. He expected to get nearly $25,000 in grant money, but instead got a letter saying the money had run out.
Though there's a federal tax credit available to cover the other $14,000 or so, he said he's postponing his project.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com