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Bloomington group home receives $14,600 in solar panels


LifeDesigns, located at Winslow Road and Walnut Street Pike, provides services and support to people with disabilities across southern Indiana. Its group home for disabled Bloomington residents will be outfitted with $14,600 in solar panels by the end of 2017, thanks to a grant provided by Duke Energy. Emily Eckelbarger Buy Photos

LifeDesigns, a group home for disabled Bloomington residents, will be outfitted with $14,600 in solar panels by the end of 2017, thanks to a grant provided by Duke Energy.

The grant set up the Solar Uniting Neighbors program to provide $400,000 of solar panels to low-income residents and nonprofits serving low-income Indiana populations.

“These are organizations that saw solar as completely out of reach for them, but now we’re bringing them into reach,” said Allyson Mitchell, director of sustainability for Prosperity Indiana, one of the organizations spearheading the project. “We put them in a place where this was an option, where this was made possible.”

Jennifer Washburn, chair of Citizens Action Coalition’s Indiana council on energy, said they wanted to help nonprofits adopt solar power because they cannot take advantage of government tax credits offered to for-profit companies that adopt solar power.

She said solar power can be expensive and without those tax credits, they may seem out-of-reach for a lot of nonprofits.

“We want to help them get over that hump,” she said.

Mitchell said the solar panels could give these organizations more budget space.

“We hope they’ll help lower energy costs and let them funnel funding into what they do best — helping low-income folks,” she said.

Andy Fraizer, executive director of Prosperity Indiana, said these lower energy costs could provide new economic freedom for nonprofits.

The grant was a part of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit against Duke Energy.

The coalition, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, Nucor Steel, Save the Valley, Sierra Club and Valley Watch were among the organizations that filed the lawsuit in March 2014.

Duke’s integrated gasification power plant in Knox County, Indiana, was a high carbon-emitting plant that didn’t meet regulatory requirements for emissions, Washburn said.

She said the coalition members thought putting money toward reducing carbon emissions would be a good way to make amends.

“We wanted to address carbon concerns and help support nonprofits serving vulnerable populations at the same time,” she said.

Mitchell said Solar Uniting Neighbors chose LifeDesigns and 16 other nonprofits from a large pool of applicants. Along with the application, the organizations submitted their utility bills for the last 12 months so that SUN could pinpoint which organizations could benefit most from solar panels.

Washburn said LifeDesigns’s LED lights and energy-efficient appliances, as well as their dedication to serve people with disabilities, won the program organizers over.

“It was so hard to choose with so many great applicants, but LifeDesigns showed it was just as dedicated to helping the environment than it was to serving low-income folks,” she said.

Mitchell said the SUN program is working to help the organizations find reputable solar panel installers so that their panels will be installed by the end of the year.

She said she hopes the program will be a helping hand to these nonprofits and also make solar power a possibility for other Bloomington residents who haven’t considered the idea.

Another goal of the program is to get more people engaged in transitioning Hoosier energy use into the future, she said.

“We want to normalize solar in Indiana,” she said. “It’s not just for California, Nevada, Arizona. It’s for us.”

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