The lowly solar panel may never replace old-fashioned power plants or stir the heart the way a giant wind turbine can, but the little panels are spreading slowly across Ohio -- thanks in part to a state program that has helped finance their installation.
Now that trend might be threatened.
In the last five years, hundreds of solar arrays have appeared on commercial roof tops, on homes where installers have had to learn aesthetics to blend them in and even in back yards, resting on "ground-mounted" systems.
The sudden burst of solar has a lot to do with the state grant program, installers say.
The Advanced Energy Fund, managed by the Ohio Department of Development, has awarded about $44.6 million in grants since Dec. 31, 2005, to nearly 700 projects, more than 400 of them solar projects with a total generating capacity of more than 9.5 megawatts (9.5 million watts).
The awards went not only for solar power arrays, but also for solar heating systems, more than 150 wind turbine systems and more than 60 energy efficiency projects.
The grants, according to a Plain Dealer analysis of a current report obtained from the state, have gone to more than 300 residential projects, about 180 commercial businesses, nearly 70 industrial projects, about 10 farms and about 70 institutions such as schools, colleges, churches and foundations.
Ohio electric utility customers bankrolled the fund by paying 9 cents per month on their electric bills. Residential, commercial and industrial customers paid the same amount.
That figured to an expense of $1.08 per year, whether you were a homeowner or a factory.
But now the fund is drying up because the law requiring the electric utilities to collect the 9 cents expired at the end of 2010. And the Republican-dominated Ohio Senate refused to approve a bill extending the law.