Local installers work with WV SUN to bring solar to ag producers

Three West Virginia-based solar installers are helping bring solar energy to West Virginia farms through participation in WV SUN’s Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op. DT Solar of French Creek, Mountain View Solar of Berkeley Springs, and Solar Holler of Shepherdstown responded to WV SUN’s Request for Information and are ready to help Mountain State farmers solar. These local solar installers have successfully serviced other WV SUN solar co-ops and are fully licensed and certified to operate in the state.

WV SUN will connect participating agricultural producers to these qualified installers based on each participant’s individual needs, location, and circumstances. WV SUN will help participants solicit and review solar proposals, and can connect participants to funding resources. This includes grant opportunities and guaranteed loan-financing programs. The participating solar installers also will assist participants in securing funding and financing to go solar.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase solar panels. The goal of the Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op is to help West Virginia farmers access the benefits of solar energy with technical support from WV SUN. We support, advise, and advocate for participants throughout the entire process of going solar.

This program is open to West Virginia agricultural producers for whom at least 50% of gross income comes from on-site agricultural operations. We are working closely with WV agriculture organizations and stakeholders to recruit interested participants. WV SUN Solar Co-op Coordinator Autumn Long is available to speak at agriculture-related meetings and events throughout the state. She will attend the WV Farmers Market Association market managers’ training day on April 27 to educate farmers market managers about the program and how going solar can benefit their vendors.

To learn more or sign up for the co-op, visit the webpage or contact Autumn at 304-608-3539 or autumn@wvsun.org.

Huntington Solar Co-op seeks installer

The 23-member Huntington solar co-op today issued a request for proposals (RFP) from area solar installers. The group members created the co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Marshall University Sustainability Department, the Huntington League of Women Voters, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light, WV SUN, and OH SUN are the co-op sponsors.

Local installers interested in serving the group can download the RFP here and the response template here. Huntington residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op web page.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Co-op members will select a single company to complete all of the installations. They will then have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

Installing a system for future storage connection

Pairing solar installations with battery storage is an attractive idea for many people who are thinking about going solar. Battery storage provides piece of mind that even if you are unable to get electricity from the grid (e.g. during a storm) you will still have power.

Despite this benefit, battery storage remains an expensive proposition for many. At the same time, the market for batteries is growing rapidly. This rapid growth is coupled with quickly declining prices. So, even if battery storage may not pencil out for solar customers today, it is possible it will in the near future. Fortunately, solar systems can be built with the addition of a future storage system in mind.

When building a system for future storage, it is important to make sure your grid-tied inverter’s power rating doesn’t exceed that of a future battery. Battery sizes range from 4,000-7,000 watts. So, let’s say you have a 9,000 watt system, you would want to purchase two smaller inverters, say 6,000 and 3,000 watt ones, rather than one 9,000 watt inverter. This will allow you to rewire the electricity from the smaller inverter into your future battery system.

This can be accomplished through AC coupling. AC coupling refers to the interface between the solar array and the inverter. This takes place physically in your home’s circuit panel. The battery installer will add an additional breaker panel that covers the outlets that can be powered with the electricity stored in your battery system. These outlets will be the ones connected to your “critical loads” such as your refrigerator.

There is an added cost to having two smaller inverters, rather than one larger inverter. The cost will vary, but expect to pay between $500 and $1,000 for the two smaller ones.

It is also possible to connect systems that use micro inverters to batteries. The key is to arrange the strings in a way that a portion of your system is set up to send electricity to a future battery system.

If you are thinking about adding battery back up, let your installer know before they install the system. This ensures they will design your system to be storage compatible and to minimize the additional work that would have to be done to install batteries when you do decide to add storage.

Coalition intervenes to stop FirstEnergy’s latest bailout

On March 15, 2017, WV Solar United Neighborhoods (WV SUN) and West Virginia Citizen Action Group (WVCAG) took action to prevent West Virginia residents and business owners from having to bail out Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. and its shareholders.

The groups filed a motion to intervene in a Public Service Commission (PSC) of West Virginia case where FirstEnergy’s West Virginia utilities – Mon Power and Potomac Edison – are trying to unload the Pleasants coal plant onto West Virginia electric customers.

Under FirstEnergy’s proposal, Mon Power would buy the aging Pleasants power plant from another FirstEnergy subsidiary. The move would shift the financial burden of the plant from FirstEnergy shareholders to Mon Power and Potomac Edison’s customers. These customers would be forced to cover all of the plant’s costs, assume the plant’s financial risks, and pay FirstEnergy a guaranteed profit.

FirstEnergy’s proposal comes after a lengthy effort to lay the foundation for this financial bailout. In late 2015, FirstEnergy filed a plan with the PSC that recommended the purchase of a coal plant to meet demand. WV SUN and WVCAG, represented by Earthjustice, challenged that plan’s assumptions, explaining that this was a thinly disguised attempt to pave the way for purchasing the Pleasants plant. Later, when Mon Power sought proposals to meet the power needs it identified, WV SUN and WVCAG, together with the Consumer Advocate Division, filed a letter with the PSC explaining how the flawed process was heavily skewed to favor the Pleasants plant.

“If this plant was such a good bet, then FirstEnergy would be putting its own money on the line, instead of asking the government to force ratepayers to gamble on it being a good deal,” said Emmett Pepper, director of WVCAG’s Energy Efficient West Virginia project. “Pleasants is currently part of a deregulated free market, but FirstEnergy wants to use its monopoly status in West Virginia to force its Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers to pay for this.”

WV SUN and WVCAG are leading the recently formed coalition fighting the bailout – West Virginians For Energy Freedom. The coalition is comprised of economic and ratepayer advocacy groups, faith-based organizations, businesses, and elected officials. The coalition will hold a series of community meetings to discuss the bailout.

Report shows how solar can reclaim West Virginia land

Solar is often referred to as “renewable energy” because it uses a fuel source, sunlight, that doesn’t run out. But solar can be “renewable” in another way as well. Solar can make otherwise unusable land usable again. This is the premise of a new report from Downstream Strategies that examines the use of degraded lands for siting large-scale solar projects. It identifies more than a dozen sites across the state that would be good hosts for solar systems larger than 300 kW.

A mix of abandoned mines, hazardous waste sites, and other otherwise unusable pieces of land, these locations were determined starting from a base of several thousand sites. The report authors paired the list down by selecting sites that are flat and where the land is free of tree cover. The report highlights fifteen out of several hundred such sites with the greatest amount of clear, flat land located close to transmission lines.

The impact of developing even a small portion of this land for solar would create significant economic benefits for West Virginia. Using just 5% of the area covered in the report would create 8,000 jobs. As more West Virginians think about putting solar panels on their own homes, these types of projects could enable those who are unable to go solar at home to access the benefits of renewable energy.

Click here to read the full report.

Farmer brings solar to West Virginia’s ‘Poultry Capital’

Moorefield, located in Hardy County along the South Branch of the Potomac River, is known as the Poultry Capital of West Virginia. Local poultry farmer Ward Malcolm specializes in contract pullet production in two 50- by 400-foot chicken houses. In 2012 he had solar installed at his farm to save money on his energy bills.

“As a business person, I just looked at the dollars and cents,” Malcolm said. “If it doesn’t make financial sense, I’m not gonna do it.” Malcolm consulted his accountant before deciding to go solar, and together they concluded it was a wise financial investment.

Malcom’s interest in solar was sparked by his work as Dean of Career, Technical and Workforce Education at Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College. During his tenure at Eastern, Malcolm developed a Wind Energy Technician Training Program to teach students how to service and repair the area’s many wind turbines.

With a professional background in electrical engineering as well as farming and technical education, Malcolm came to realize that renewable energy could meet his farm’s electricity needs. So he decided to have solar panels installed on his chicken houses.

Malcolm hired Berkeley Springs, WV-based Mountain View Solar to design and install a 35-kilowatt, 156-panel grid-tied solar PV system mounted on the roofs of his two chicken houses. One roof faces east; the other faces west. Together, the solar panels offset close to 100% of his farm’s annual electric usage.

Malcolm had heard that the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides grant and loan funding to farms and businesses for renewable energy systems and energy upgrades. But the REAP application process seemed complicated and time-consuming. So Malcolm contacted Hannah Vargason of the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) to help him apply for a REAP grant.

NCIF is a nonprofit lender that provides loan financing as well as technical assistance, including grant-writing, for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Vargason helped Malcolm secure a USDA REAP grant that offset 25% of the total cost of his solar installation. NCIF financed the remaining cost through a solar-specific loan product.

Malcolm says the total project cost was about $120,000, the entirety of which can be depreciated on an accelerated business tax schedule. After the 25% REAP grant and 30% Energy Investment Tax Credit (EITC), the net cost of Malcolm’s solar project was less than $60,000.

Prior to installing solar, Malcom paid about $3,600 for electricity each year. Even if electric rates never increase, he estimates that his investment in solar will pay off within 15 years. And in fact, Malcolm notes, electric rates have already increased since he went solar in 2012. But now his electric bills will always remain close to zero, regardless of future electric rate hikes.

Malcolm says his solar has generated interest from other area farmers. “Seeing solar panels gets people excited about it,” Malcolm said. “They say, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool. This must be working.’”

Malcolm urges those who are interested in solar to consult their accountant or financial advisor. “If you have a financial person you trust, it’s well worth going to them and saying, ‘Here’s the numbers. Give me some feedback. What’s the payback?’

Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College is helping to educate area farmers about renewable energy and other technologies that can make farming more efficient and cost-effective. Malcolm recently spoke about his experience going solar at a Renewable Energy Workshop hosted by Eastern’s New Biz Launchpad. Representatives from USDA REAP, NCIF, Energy Efficient West Virginia, Mountain View Solar, and WV SUN also gave presentations at the event.

WV SUN has launched an Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op to help West Virginia farmers go solar. WV SUN Solar Co-op Coordinator Autumn Long works directly with participating farmers to connect them with funding resources and solicit proposals from qualified local solar installers. You can find out more and sign up online.

Mid-Ohio Valley residents forming solar co-op to go solar together, get a discount

Neighbors in the Mid-Ohio Valley have formed a solar co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, the WVU Parkersburg Ecohawks, the Wood County League of Women Voters, WV SUN and OH SUN, are the co-op sponsors.

The group is seeking members and will host an information meeting on Tuesday, March 21, 5:30 p.m., at the WVU Parkersburg College Theatre, 300 Campus Drive, Parkersburg, to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Mid-Ohio Valley residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op website. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Once the group is large enough, WV SUN and OH SUN will help the co-op solicit competitive bids from area solar installers.

Co-op members will select a single company to complete all the installations. They will then have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

 

Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op releases RFI to installers

The Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op has issued a request for information (RFI) to area solar installers. Local installers interested in participating in this program can download the RFI here.

The goal of this program is to help West Virginia farmers access the benefits of solar energy with technical support from WV SUN. Farmers interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op website.

This program is open to West Virginia agricultural producers for whom at least 50% of gross income comes from on-site agricultural operations. We are working closely with agriculture organizations and stakeholders in the state to recruit interested participants.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. WV SUN will connect participants with funding resources, including grant opportunities and guaranteed loan financing programs. WV SUN will assist members in soliciting and reviewing proposals from qualified local solar installers, per installer response to the RFI. We support, advise, and advocate for participants throughout the entire process of going solar.

West Virginians continue fight against FirstEnergy

As Ohio-based FirstEnergy continues pushing its bad deal on West Virginia ratepayers, we’re fighting back. Over the past several weeks, momentum has continued to grow against FirstEnergy’s attempt to put us on the hook for it’s failing power plant.

West Virginians For Energy Freedom, a coalition of individuals, nonprofit organizations, faith leaders, advocacy groups, businesses, and elected officials is fighting Ohio-based FirstEnergy’s proposed bailout with a petition, rallies, forums, community outreach, email/social media campaigns and more.

First Energy’s transfer would force Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers to pay for the plant’s costs for the next several decades. FirstEnergy’s similar transfer of ownership of the Harrison Power Plant in 2013 has cost Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers more than $160 million so far.

On February 21 and 22, West Virginians For Energy Freedom members and advocate Debbie Dooley, founder of the Green Tea Coalition and Conservatives for Energy Freedom, met with state lawmakers to build support to defeat the transfer of Pleasants power plant.

“I think the monopoly business model is outdated,” said Dooley in an interview with The Dominion Post. “Their utility customers are shackled to them. Their business model allows them to make bad mistakes and bad investments. They force their utility customers to bail them out.”

Stockholders should pay the price for bad decisions, not customers.

West Virginians For Energy Freedom will host its first Community Conversation in late March. The first forum, co-hosted by Democracy For America, is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, at The Caperton Center (Room 148), 501 W. Main St., Clarksburg. Door open at 5:30 p.m. Refreshments will be provided.

“We hope everyone from homeowners to business owners will attend to find out what the sale would mean to their monthly electric bills,” said Karan Ireland of WV SUN, who will lead the discussion in Clarksburg.

The second Community Conversation will be in Morgantown the following week. More will be scheduled throughout Mon Power’s coverage area in the spring and summer.

The coalition has more than tripled since the launch. The latest members include League of Women Voters of West Virginia, Suburban Lanes in Morgantown, and Clark A. Dixon Jr., Potomac Valley Master Naturalist Program chairman. Visit www.EnergyFreedomWV.org/coalition to see the full roster of members.

A weekly “Follow The Money” social media campaign launched March 2 and will highlight the ways FirstEnergy will benefit from moving ownership from a deregulated market to a regulated one.

Nearly 400 people already have signed the #NoBailout petition on EnergyFreedomWV.org’s Take Action page.

Mon Power is expected to file its petition to purchase the Pleasants plant on March 15, 2017, with the Public Service Commission of West Virginia. After filing, the Commission likely will publish a schedule for the case. “We expect that the PSC will reach a decision in the first quarter of 2018,” Ireland said. There will be opportunities throughout the case for public comment and public hearings.

2016 record-breaking year for U.S. solar market, jobs

The American solar market continues to break records. Last year was the industry’s biggest year ever, with 14,626 megawatts of solar PV capacity installed. This represents a nearly 95% increase over 2015’s record 7,490 megawatts. The U.S. is now home to more than 1.3 million solar PV installations, with a cumulative capacity topping 40 gigawatts.

In another first, solar now ranks No. 1 among sources of new U.S. electric generating capacity. Thirty-nine percent of all generating capacity additions last year came from solar, surpassing natural gas and wind at 29% and 26%, respectively.

Such explosive growth adds up to lots of new jobs. According to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census, U.S. solar employment in the United States grew by 25% last year. Moreover, solar jobs have increased by at least 20% in each of the past four years. In 2016, the solar industry created one out of every 50 new jobs in the nation – in other words, 2% of all new American jobs came from solar.

The U.S. solar industry now employs more than 260,000 workers, making it the largest employer in the electric power generation sector nationwide. Right here in West Virginia solar is growing as well. Nearly 400 West Virginians now work in the industry.