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.

Co-op forms to help agricultural producers go solar

WV SUN is excited to launch an effort to help agricultural producers go solar. The goal of this program is to help farmers across the state access the benefits of solar energy with technical support from WV SUN. This program is open to West Virginia agricultural producers for whom at least 50% of gross income comes from on-site agricultural operations.

Members of the Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op will gain access to helpful resources and regular email updates, as well as individualized support and assistance from WV SUN Solar Co-op Coordinator Autumn Long throughout the process.

WV SUN will connect participants with funding resources, including grant opportunities and guaranteed loan-financing programs, available for West Virginia agricultural producers. It also plans to help co-op members solicit proposals from qualified local solar installers and help them select the option that best fits their individual needs. The group will support, advise, and advocate for members throughout the entire process of going solar.

WV SUN Solar Co-op Coordinator Autumn Long attended the WV Small Farms Conference in Charleston earlier this month to promote the new co-op to conference attendees, including West Virginia farmers of all ages and levels of experience, agricultural advocates, community groups, and government organizations. Autumn enjoyed talking with hundreds of West Virginia farmers and their supporters about the benefits and affordability of solar energy.

Autumn will speak on a Sustainable Energy Panel at Eastern Technical & Community College on Thursday, March 2, at 5 p.m. For more information and to RSVP for this event, contact Tina Metzer, 304-897- 2007, tina.metzer@easternwv.edu.

To learn more and sign up for the Ag Producers’ Solar Co-op, visit the WV SUN website or contact Autumn Long, Solar Co-op Coordinator, 304-608-3539, autumn@wvsun.org.

Lewisburg & Beckley Solar Co-ops select Solar Holler to serve group

The Lewisburg & Beckley Solar Co-ops have selected Solar Holler to install solar panels for the 27-member group. Co-op members selected Solar Holler through a competitive bidding process over two other firms. The group will hold its final public information session on Thursday, March 16, at 5:30 p.m. at Lewisburg City Hall to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Co-op members selected Solar Holler due to its competitive pricing, quality materials, and commitment to local job training and employment.

The co-op is open to new members until April 5. Lewisburg- and Beckley-area residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the WV SUN website. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Solar Holler will provide each co-op member with an individualized proposal based on the 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.

Information session details

Thursday, March 16
5:30 p.m.
Lewisburg City Hall
942 West Washington Street

Click here to RSVP

Using solar storage to mitigate natural disasters’ impact

Solar systems with battery backup have the potential to provide communities with much needed resiliency in the face of natural disasters. These systems can protect vulnerable communities from the disaster’s most immediate, devastating effects by providing power when the electric grid goes down. Over an extended period, solar powered system replenish — even if roads are cut off, or access to gas for traditional home generators is unavailable or hard to get.

While the need for solar plus storage is clear, what is less clear is if solar systems with battery backup is a realistic option for communities seeking to improve their resiliency. We decided to answer this question and explore what it would take to help a community deploy solar plus storage at a meaningful scale.

Working with our parent organization, Community Power Network, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the current “state of the art” of solar plus storage. It sought to determine if solar plus storage is a viable means to protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change. We modeled the financial feasibility of these projects and identified means to scaling up their deployment.

The research demonstrated several important findings. The battery market is robust enough to support solar plus storage. Solar plus storage can be financially positive for the institutions that build these projects. This is especially true for commercial entities facing high demand charges in their regular electric bill. Despite this, interest on the private business side for solar storage remains low. This is due to a low level of knowledge about storage, the complexity of developing such projects, and a lack of incentive for businesses to invest in resiliency of any form. On the public side, municipalities in the study area were very interested in using solar storage as part of their resiliency goals. This is despite the fact that the economics of such projects were much less compelling for municipalities. This is due to the complexity of utilizing tax credits. Despite this interest from municipalities, solar plus storage is not currently included in the local resiliency planning.

The barriers to growing solar plus storage are not financial or technical. In order for this technology to flourish, the policy environment must change. Policy should look to create demand for solar plus storage projects in resiliency planning. It should require municipalities and strategic businesses that provide communications, food, medicine, and shelter to the infirm and elderly to plan for emergency when power is out and gas stations are closed for an extended time frame. This will encourage municipalities and private sector entities to think pro-actively about how their systems could become more resilient.

To read the full report, click here.

Solar and taxes: Paying what you owe and getting paid what you’re owed

(NOTE: The information in this article should not be construed as tax advice. We recommend you check with your tax adviser on these credit and tax preparation questions.)

Tax season is here. For new solar owners, that may mean a significant tax credit. If you are a new solar owner it is important you understand what you can and can’t deduct as part of your new solar system.

The federal government offers a non-refundable 30% credit off your system’s purchased cost. For this tax season, this credit can be recovered for systems placed in service before the end of 2016. This credit is covered under section 25D of the IRS code. The relevant sections are 25D(d)(2), 25D(e)(2), and 25D(d)8. The Federal Tax Credit for homeowners is scheduled to lower to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. It is set to expire at the end of 2023.

This credit reduces the amount of tax you will pay in the year you take the credit. Assume you paid $10,000 for a solar system and your total tax bill that year was $6,500. You would get a $3,000 tax credit. So, your final tax bill would be $3,500. Assuming that you paid taxes through withholding from your paycheck or made quarterly estimated tax payments, you would probably get money back in a refund.

Under the same scenario, let’s assume your tax bill was only $2,000. You can only take the tax credit up to zeroing out your tax liability for the year. But, you would be able to roll the remaining credit over to account for your taxes the next year, so you aren’t losing out if you can’t take the entire credit in one year.

Solar customers are able to take the tax credit starting the year their system goes into service. So, if your system was installed in December, but it wasn’t approved by the utility company to be switched on until January, the conservative approach would be to wait until the next year to claim the tax credit. Interpretations vary on the exact meaning of “in service” however. An alternate interpretation would be when the system is fully installed and tested by the installer and subsequently inspected and approved for use by your local jurisdiction.

Does that 30% cover everything?

A key solar tax question is does the credit apply to structural improvements you need to make in order to complete the installation. For example, let’s say you had to make improvements to your roof as part of your installation. Is that covered?

Here’s what the IRS says:

Qualified solar electric property costs are costs for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in your home located in the United States. No costs relating to a solar panel or other property installed as a roof (or portion thereof) will fail to qualify solely because the property constitutes a structural component of the structure on which it is installed.

This would seem to indicate that you may be able to include the costs of roofing into the tax credit as long as it is a structural component of the installation. A practical example of this would be if a home needed to have its roof re-enforced (the rafters or trusses for example) to support an installation: That may be covered under the tax credit, whereas replacement of roofing shingles, since they are not structural in nature, would not be covered.

What you’ll owe

The 30% tax credit only applies if you own your system. If you lease your system, the company you lease from is eligible to take the tax credit. If you own your system (you pay cash or finance your purchase through a loan), you will also own any Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) generated by the system. The money you earn from selling these SRECs is taxable. Think of this like capital gains taxes you would have to pay upon the sale of a stock.

Everyone’s system and tax situation is unique. If you have questions, you should contact a qualified tax professional.