Charged up: Garden Valley Neighborhood House goes green with solar power

Last Friday, Sept. 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 House, 7100 Kinsman Road.

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 House.The project has been five years in the making, coming to fruition thanks to the efforts of Garden Valley Neighborhood House executive director Jan Ridgeway, Sierra Club and San Francisco-based climate justice nonprofit RE-volv, and Better Together Solar, as well as support from city officials and other organizations.

The solar array will save the largest food pantry in Northeast Ohio $64,000 in electricity costs over the course of next five years, says Ridgeway, with an estimated 28% to 30% reduction in the electric bills in the first year. “It’s a progressive savings,” she says. “It builds up.”

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

When Ridgeway and her partner, Quinton Durham, first contracted with RE-volv in 2017, they were operating 23 refrigerators and freezers, and a walk-in cooler around the clock to feed clients in need—running up a hefty electric bill.

At the time, Ridgeway opted to have her own electricity cut off at home and was paying the Garden Valley Neighborhood House utility bills out of her own personal savings.

One month after they signed the contract with RE-volv, Ridgeway was diagnosed with cancer, and she 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 temporarily close.

“We were lucky that they held the contract for us,” she says. “There were times we didn’t know if we would be able to complete it. But about 60 seniors in our Seniors Club worked with the Sierra Club to keep the project going.”

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

The $34,000 solar system was financed by RE-volv and supported with 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 making the project happen. “BEL provided an educational function to help us understand what solar energy is about,” she says. “And they are going to host a speakers forum this Spring to educate the community about the benefits of the solar panels on our building.”

Guests and speakers at the ribbon cutting event included Cuyahoga County Council president Pernel Jones; Ward 5 Cleveland City Councilperson Richard Starr; Ericka Copeland and Jocelyn Travis with the Ohio Sierra Club; RE-volv director of solar project operations Sean McGaughey; and SeMia Bray and Rev. R.A. Stephens with BEL.

Ridgeway says the weather could not have been more perfect at the event. “It was outside, and we had been praying that the weather would hold,” she recalls. “The weather held, it wasn’t too hot, and when we talked about renewable energy the sun came out.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.