Creative Solar Investment Partnership Yields Community Benefits

Karen Rogalski
Karen Rogalski

Changing a site to something productive takes vision and persistence over a long period of time. This type of work also requires new and creative partnerships. The Overland Jeep 80-acre site in Toledo, Ohio is a great example of working partnerships.

From 1888 to 2006, the site was home to Toledo’s century-old automobile manufacturing hub, Toledo Jeep. Neighborhoods around the site were established during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 2006, the plant closed its doors. When an event such as this occurs it not only affects jobs and economics of the city, it also affects the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority purchased the property in 2010 with the sole purpose of returning this land to the stream of commerce in the form of an innovative business park that would be an example of sustainable industrial redevelopment. A master plan for the site was completed and included a component of modern and energy efficient utilities. Clean up and remediation of the site began almost immediately and by 2013 the Port Authority completed the installation of a new roadway located off Central Avenue, which serves as the main entrance into the site.

The Port Authority knew that the neighborhoods around the site needed to become part of this clean up and development effort for this section of the city to flourish. The Port Authority partnered with the Greater Toledo Community Foundation to engage with the neighborhood. This engagement work in the community began in 2012 by identifying leadership, beginning community outreach, and holding meetings.

In 2015, construction on a spec building was completed in partnership with Ed Harmon, Managing Partner of Overland Industrial Park, LLC. The 100,000 square foot class “A” pre-cast, concrete industrial building was designed to suit warehouse/distribution or light manufacturing/assembly operations. The building also included truck docks and modern column spacing and design features.

In 2016, the Port Authority and NAI Harmon Group announced that Dana Holding Corporation was opening a new high-tech axle manufacturing facility at Overland Industrial Park, making Dana the first tenant on the recently redeveloped site in the 100,000 square foot building. Dana’s plan was to expand to 300,000 square feet by 2017.

Now was the time to develop cost efficient energy on the site. Discussions began with GEM Energy, a solar development firm within the Toledo-based Rudolph Libbe Group. A national search for a model to follow revealed no results.

After long discussions with many partners Port Authority decided to release a bond for energy to raise capital. The Greater Toledo Community Foundation created a non-profit entity that leased the solar field from the Port Authority for minimal cost. GEM developed a plan to create a 3-megawatt solar array with placement in the floodway of the Jeep site that could not be utilized for buildings. Jason Slattery, Director of Solar Operations at GEM Energy, led this project to completion with the development of elevated solar panels, inverters, and transformers.

As a result of this creative partnership, the non-profit entity generates a non-taxable revenue stream through the sale of cost effective electricity to Dana. The proceeds of the sale of electricity are put towards paying back the bond, with additional cash from the sale reinvested in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Relationships and partnerships continued with Toledo-based First Solar and many others agreeing to donate or discount various components of the project, including inverters by Yaskawa Solectria Solar and design, engineering and construction services from GEM Energy, JDRM Engineering, Kokosing Construction, the Mannik Smith Group and TTL Associates. This project represents both advanced technology and unique community participation and is a showcase for American-made products. Governmental agencies such as the City of Toledo and Army Corps of Engineers worked with the private and non-profit sectors to get this and many other projects done.