W.Va. Communities Adopt Solar Co-ops

  • In West Virginia, for every kilowatt hour produced by solar panels, your electric bill is reduced by that amount. Photo: Wayne National Forest

August 6, 2014
By Glynis Board

Anya Schoolman lives in Washington, D.C. and when her son pushed her to go solar in 2007, she decided all the research and effort that went into it would be worth it if she was doing it for a whole neighborhood.

“So he went door to door with a flier and two weeks later we had 50 houses signed up and no idea what we were going to do,” Schoolman recalls. “The first group, it took us two years, we got 45 houses solarized.”

Schoolman said ever since then, other neighborhoods have been coming to her, wanting to do the same thing.

She started, and became the executive director of Community Power Network. In the last year and a half the nonprofit has helped 16 neighborhoods in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and now West Virginia pull together to make installing solar panels a more attainable goal.

Taking West Virginia Solar

Two communities in West Virginia, one in Monroe County and one in Fayette County, approached the Community Power Network. And each community has different ideas about how they want to go solar.

“We found out about this opportunity because we’ve been doing a lot of energy efficiency work, so we invited them here because we knew that Fayetteville would be an excellent place to find people who would be interested in this kind of thing,” says Ginger Danze of Fayette County.

About 27 residents are part of the solar co-op in Fayette County. Stiever and Schoolman met with community members to answer general questions and help community members make an informed decisions to best serve their solar needs.

Schoolman and Stiever laid out and helped community members navigate through information about going solar, then they put a call out to solar installer for bids. Three companies responded with proposals(one from West Virginia, one from Maryland, and one from Ohio).

Fayette County solar co-op’s decided to go with Ohio-based Appropriately Applied Technologies(AAT).

Myles Murray, the company’s president, said his proposal focused on quality materials to guarantee a maximum lifetime of the systems as well as other technical perks. But he said a key aspect of his proposal also focused on partnering with the community, and hiring local contractors to install the systems.

So how much can you save?

Both the Fayette and the Monroe County co-ops will accept any interested parties through September. Co-op members join for free. The co-op members are slated to be outfitted with solar panels by the first of the year. Community Power Network says $8,000 to $15,000 is a good estimate for an average home solar system today.

“The solar that you produce this year might be worth $500 or $600,” Schoolman says, “But electric rates have been going up and up, so that same amount of power that you produce five years from now might be worth $1,000. So the cumulative savings you have from the power you generate is worth three, four, five times what the system actually costs.”

And net-metering is written into West Virginia’s law books. That means for every kilowatt hour produced, your electric bill is reduced by that amount. If you produce more than you use, you acquire credits that can be applied to future bills. A 30 percent federal tax credit also applies. Simply put, the next time you file taxes, you can write off 30 percent of the total cost of installing solar panels. It’s an offer that may expire in 2016.