Garden Valley neighborhood house goes green with solar power

Last Friday, September 16, the Garden Valley neighborhood, city officials and many community groups came together for a ribbon cutting to celebrate the 14kW, 40-panel rooftop solar array now installed at Garden Valley Neighborhood House7100 Kinsman Road.

The Garden Valley neighborhood, city officials and many community groups came together for a ribbon cutting to celebrate the 14 kW solar array and 40 rooftop panels now installed at Garden Valley Neighborhood House.The project spanned five years and came to fruition through the efforts of Garden Valley Neighborhood House Executive Director Jan Ridgeway, Sierra Club and San Francisco-based climate justice nonprofit RE-flightand Better Together Solaras well as the support of municipal authorities and other organisations.

Solar panel will save northeast Ohio’s largest food pantry $64,000 in electricity costs over the next five years, Ridgeway says, with an estimated 28-30% reduction in bills electricity the first year. “It’s progressive savings,” she says. “It’s building.”

Garden Valley is one of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods, and Ridgeway says the majority of residents that Garden Valley Neighborhood House serves are single mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who are caring for children.

When Ridgeway and his partner, Quinton Durham, signed an initial contract with RE-volv in 2017, they operated 23 refrigerators and freezers, as well as a 24-hour cold room to feed customers in need, resulting in a heavy electricity bill.

At the time, Ridgeway opted to have the power cut off at home and was paying Garden Valley Neighborhood House’s utility bills with his own personal savings.

A month after signing the contract with RE-volv, Ridgeway was diagnosed with cancer and had to put the solar panel program on hold for the next two years. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the house had to close temporarily.

“We were lucky they held the contract for us,” she says. “There were times when we didn’t know if we would be able to finish it. But about 60 seniors from our Seniors Club worked with the Sierra Club to move the project forward.

A 40-panel rooftop solar array is now installed at Garden Valley Neighborhood House, 7100 Kinsman Road.Before the solar panels could be installed, the pitched roof had to be “propped up,” says Ridgeway, and the electrical system had to be upgraded with new circuit breakers, for a total of $9,600. The Sierra Club held a fundraiser and raised over $10,000 to cover costs, with the excess used to pay for Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The $34,000 solar system was funded by RE-volv and supported by a grant from the Sierra Club Foundation. The system was installed for free.

Meanwhile, Ridgeway says other local groups, such as Black Environmental Leaders (BEL), got involved in the realization of the project. “BEL provided an educational function to help us understand what solar energy is,” she says. “And they’re going to host a speaker’s forum this spring to educate the community on the benefits of solar panels on our building.”

Guests and speakers at the inaugural event included Cuyahoga County Council Chairman Pernel Jones; Cleveland Ward 5 City Council member Richard Starr; Ericka Copeland and Jocelyn Travis with the Ohio Sierra Club; Sean McGaughey, RE-volv’s Solar Project Operations Manager; and SeMia Bray and Reverend RA Stephens with BEL.

Ridgeway says the weather couldn’t have been more perfect at the event. “It was outside and we prayed for the weather to hold up,” she recalls. “The weather held, it wasn’t too hot, and when we talked about renewable energy, the sun came out.”

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