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What drives your interest in working on solar energy issues?

I am motivated to empower people to participate in the transition to clean energy at the local level. Solar energy gives individuals and communities greater energy independence while benefiting local economies, particularly in rural areas. I’m also inspired to get creative and make solar energy more accessible and affordable within our current policy context.

What impact do you feel the SolSmart program and you as an Advisor will have on the communities with which you will work?

I have seen the momentum SolSmart can catalyze and look forward to working with more communities in our region. In 2017, MACOG assisted the cities of Nappanee, Goshen, and South Bend in earning Designation. This led to a partnership with local volunteers and a successful Solarize Northern Indiana initiative with 97 new solar projects. We will build on the increasing awareness that solar is a viable option to stabilize energy costs. In the time since the first SolSmart round, we have since seen successful donor-funded solar projects at a local grocery co-op and soup kitchen, a large project by Goshen College, and many businesses and individuals looking into solar. Solar is normal in the communities we have worked with. For example, at over 116 W per person, Goshen has more solar per capita than leading solar cities like Phoenix, AZ; San Antonio, TX; San Francisco, CA; and Denver, CO had in 2017.

What aspects of your work plan are you most excited about working on?

I am most excited about continuing community engagement and giving those who evaluating their clean energy choices better access to information about local processes. Feedback from residents, businesses, and others has been that it is a very overwhelming process to navigate: zoning, permitting, historic and special districts, homeowners associations, utility agreements and inspections, tax credits, property tax exemptions, changes in state policy, how to find installers and evaluate their proposals, and of course financing.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

I am looking forward to building new and deeper relationships within communities that I haven’t personally worked with as much in the two years since I moved back to the region. This will benefit my work in the many other topic areas where we partner with local governments, businesses, community organizations, and the public to address interlocal issues. Environmental improvements and impacts by their nature are interlocal – these issues cross municipal boundaries and can benefit from proactive regional planning.

About Leah

Leah Thill is the Senior Environmental Planner with the Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG) in north central Indiana, where she implements clean energy, clean transportation, and clean air initiatives and supports regional brownfield redevelopment. Leah brings her experience in sustainability from the public, private, academic, and non-profit sectors, previously serving in the first round of SolSmart Advisors with MACOG, with the Indiana University Office of Sustainability, for Berry Global as an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellow, and as an AmeriCorps volunteer with Keep Pittsburgh Beautiful. She holds a Master of Public Affairs and a Master of Science in Environmental Science from Indiana University and a B.A. in Chemistry from Goshen College.