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New study finds Ohio community solar could yield more than $3.49 billion in gross state product, $400 million in local tax revenue

Ohio University analysis finds that an “Ohio Community Solar Pilot Program” would bring multiple benefits to the Ohio economy

Athens, Ohio — A new analysis from the Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service’s Center for Economic Development and Community Resilience finds that a state “Ohio Community Solar Pilot Program” could contribute nearly $3.49 billion in gross state product (GSP), 27,254 Ohio job years with total earnings of $2.48 billion, and $409.5 million in local tax revenue over its lifetime.

“This study underscores the opportunity costs incurred by Ohio’s lack of a state community solar program,” said Carlo Cavallaro, Midwest Regional Director at the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA), which commissioned the Ohio University study. “But with the introduction last week of HB 197, which contains many of the provisions of the bill evaluated in this study, state policymakers have a new opportunity to drive long-term prosperity by empowering more Ohioans with the choice to access local, reliable, and affordable clean energy.”

Community solar projects are located within a community where multiple customers can subscribe and receive credits on their utility bills for their share of the power that is produced, just as if the panels were installed on their own roofs. That means all customers—households, small and large businesses, schools, religious institutions, and hospitals—can access the benefits of local, clean energy by simply subscribing to a project in their service area.

If enacted, the community solar program framework studied by Ohio University would allow for the installation of 1,500 MWAC in new community solar-based electricity generation capacity across the state, which includes 500 MWAC of new capacity specifically for brownfield sites. For projects sited in one of Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties, the pilot program allots an additional 250 MWAC. Together, 1,750 MWAC  in new capacity enabled by the program is expected to be constructed within five years—enough to power roughly 285,000 average Ohio households.

Nationwide, community solar projects typically have a capacity of approximately 5 MWAC. However, the Ohio Community Solar Pilot Program studied would allow community solar facilities with a capacity of up to 10 MWAC, and up to 20 MWAC for facilities constructed on brownfield sites. Of the three project sizes considered—5 MWAC, 10 MWAC, 20 MWAC—results from the Ohio University analysis project that an individual 20 MWAC project will deliver a greater lifetime economic contribution than either a single 5 MWAC or 10 MWAC project, due to the size of the larger project’s associated construction and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. 

However, the exact distribution of the size of these facilities for each of the three sections of the Ohio Community Solar Pilot Program—1,000 MWAC New Capacity, 500 MWAC New Capacity on Brownfields, and 250 MWAC New Capacity in Appalachian Ohio—is speculative, so the analysis considers multiple distribution scenarios. Importantly, the study found that the expected lifetime economic contributions varied across project size distributions in each of the Program’s three sections, but concluded that scenarios with a greater number of individual projects stand to yield the most in terms of lifetime earnings and contributions to GSP.

“Rigorous analysis underscores the economic benefits that Ohioans can expect from a state-approved community solar pilot program, even in the most conservative scenarios,” said Dr. Tuyen Pham, Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at Ohio University. “And while our study did not consider either the economic effects of the customer utility bill credits that the pilot program would guarantee to Ohio community solar subscribers or the energy security and affordability that a more diverse energy mix may yield, these factors should also merit consideration by all Ohioans.”