HARPERS FERRY, W. Va.: It’s been an amazing couple of weeks for solar in Jefferson County, West Virginia.
On Tuesday, September 9, a coalition of alternative energy supporters in the community cut the ribbon on the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church (SPC) solar project – the largest community solar project in West Virginia – for an installation cost of $1!
According to Dan Conant, founder of Solar Holler, the church’s solar panels are funded by almost 100 Shepherdstown families who agreed to install demand response controllers from Maryland-based Mosaic Power on their water heaters.
Mosaic Power installs the controllers for free, and the network of water heaters becomes a sort of “virtual power plant.” Mosaic then sells the electricity service energy savings created by the water heaters network to the grid, and pays the people who installed the controllers $100 out of the money it makes through selling the service.
Instead of keeping the $100, all the people who installed the controllers in Shepherdstown agreed to put it towards the church’s solar panels, which will provide about half the energy the church needs each year.
Mr. Conant says, “The response from around the state – and country – has been incredible. The SPC and Shepherdstown communities are inspiring towns, churches, and non-profit organizations around America.”
The SPC project is just the beginning for West Virginia. Next up? The Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library. On Wednesday, September 17, at a 6:30 p.m. open public meeting, folks can learn more about the project, about how the Solar Holler and Mosaic Power models work, and how they can help make the project happen – both to cut electricity bills and provide a teaching tool for the Middle School next door.
Than Hitt, a member of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church who worked with Solar Holler to get the project started, said the idea to put solar panels on the church started with a brainstorming session among church members a few years ago. He said members of the church had long wanted to install solar panels on the church, but didn’t know how they would be able to manage it until they found out about Solar Holler. Church members were interested in solar’s economic benefits, but they also wanted to reap the environmental benefits the panels would bring.
Before he started Solar Holler last summer, Conant said most nonprofit solar projects in the state were paid for by grants. Coal and gas interests in West Virginia, however, have scuttled most state support for alternative energy.
Churches and other nonprofits in West Virginia – and anyone else who’s on a commercial electricity rate – are paid less for their solar contribution to the grid on average than homeowners are. The policy discourages nonprofits from installing solar – something Conant said he wishes utilities would remedy.
Still, innovation and commitment overcame even the stout resistance of the coal industry and its allies.