The Cleveland skyline seen from the Chapin Forest Reservation.
The Cleveland skyline seen from the Chapin Forest Reservation. Credit: Erik Drost / Creative Commons

A Cleveland, Ohio, green bank is leading a multi-state effort to secure a chunk of $7 billion in funding for low-income residential solar installations under the federal Inflation Reduction Act. 

Growth Opportunity Partners, a community development corporation focused on underserved, low- and moderate-income communities in Ohio, is spearheading an application by about 20 counties in seven states that are collectively seeking $250 million to help low-income residents access solar power. It operates the GO Green Energy Fund, the nation’s first Black-led green bank program. 

Growth Opportunity Partners CEO Michael Jeans.
Growth Opportunity Partners CEO Michael Jeans. Credit: Courtesy

Growth Opps CEO Michael Jeans recently spoke with the Energy News Network about how GO Green Energy fits into the nonprofit organization’s broader mission to help underserved communities.

What does Growth Opps do, and how does the Go Green Energy Fund fit with its mission?

Through consulting and capital services, Growth Opps is “providing financial solutions in communities that have been underinvested in and disadvantaged,” Jeans said. As Growth Opps worked in those communities in Ohio’s urban and rural areas, however, he and colleagues saw that people’s health and well-being were a big concern.

Conversations with health executives, foundations and others led to the concept of the GO Green Energy Fund as a way to address some of the causes of health problems at a community level, as opposed to a case-by-case basis.

“We may, at a systems level, be able to create access for those who would like to see a better life for themselves, who would like to see cleaner communities,” Jeans said.

How do Growth Opps and its Go Green Energy Fund fit with the Inflation Reduction Act’s funding opportunities?

Growth Opps was incorporated in 2015, and the GO Green Energy Fund began in 2020 — two years before Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act. Among other things, the law authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to implement its $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which the EPA says is meant to mobilize “financing and private capital for greenhouse gas- and air pollution-reducing projects in communities across the country.”

“Thankfully for us, there’s natural alignment,” Jeans said.

What is the coalition led by Growth Opps, and what is it seeking?

“We are the Industrial Heartland Solar Coalition,” Jeans said. “It’s a county-by-county regional focus across multiple states and an opportunity for there to be equity in the process.”

Growth Opportunity Partners is the lead applicant. The coalition’s members include roughly 20 counties and their communities in Ohio and states from Missouri, Indiana and Michigan to parts of Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. Group members in Ohio are Cuyahoga, Summit, Franklin, Hamilton and Montgomery counties, which include the cities of Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton.

The coalition hopes to get $250 million under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund’s $7 billion Solar for All category, which aims to tackle barriers to disadvantaged communities’ participation in distributed solar generation.

“These dollars need to be catalytic. This is a seed investment for this work,” Jeans said, meaning the funding is meant to spur additional funding from other sources, including capital markets, businesses, philanthropy and other sources. Otherwise, “we will have undercapitalized the effort this is going to take.”

Jeans said the group hopes to hear back from the EPA sometime in the winter, with a possibility for funds to start flowing in July. With disruption in Congress, however, those goalposts could move.

If the IRA funding comes through, are the plans only to provide solar panels?

“There are other things that come along with that,” Jeans said, including whether rooftops are ready for solar. Also, “under the rest of our legacy work at Growth Opps, are there other things we should be considering? Should we look at appliances for upgrades? Weatherization to further save money? There are incentives and rebates that are available at the household level.”

What impacts do you expect the funding could have, beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

“If we can get [distributed solar power] to the homes that have high energy burdens — meaning too much of their check is going to pay for the cost of utilities, then we can have significant impacts here,” Jeans said.

The work can provide job benefits for people in disadvantaged communities, too. “We’re in a position to add skills, increase income and increase opportunity while cleaning up the environment for our families and our neighbors,” Jeans said.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in your work?

“There’s a level of trust that has to be earned,” Jeans said. “When places have been underinvested in and people have been disinvested in, then it’s difficult to believe that the next knock on the door is one that’s welcome.”

Earning that trust calls for caring and listening to people about their needs and lived experiences, Jeans said. “We know these people. We know many of the occupants in these communities. We have a diverse team, and we’ve grown up in many of these communities.”

“The second barrier is: things have price tags. And when you are early in market it’s going to cost more,” Jeans said. For him, that’s why the Inflation Reduction Act’s funding opportunities matter — to bridge gaps and act as a catalyst to create markets.

Why does timing matter?

“This is every bit a decisive decade for us,” Jeans said. “We need to reduce emissions and begin to make a turn by 2030.”

Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed by 43% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year. And global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2025 to limit warming to either 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. The world is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, but limiting emissions can help avoid the worst consequences.

How do you measure success?

Funding under the Inflation Reduction Act will call for reports to the EPA or other agencies. And grants to nonprofits like Growth Opps generally require reports on how funds were used. For Jeans, though, success is about more than reports.

“Our impact is our measure,” he said. “How those whom we serve are better off is how we measure significant return on investment.”

Editor’s note: Growth Opportunity Partners receives support from the George Gund Foundation, which also provides funding to the Energy News Network. Foundations and other donors to the Energy News Network have no oversight or input into the editorial process and may not influence stories. More about our relationship with funders can be found in our code of ethics.

Kathi is the author of 25 books and more than 600 articles, and writes often on science and policy issues. In addition to her journalism career, Kathi is an alumna of Harvard Law School and has spent 15 years practicing law. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. Kathi covers the state of Ohio.