Preserving the Environment

This Coal Capital is Going Solar

September 9, 2014
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This Coal Capital is Going Solar
In 2012, West Virginia was the second largest coal producer nationwide. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Thanks to incredible community support, a church in West Virginia paid only $1 for an entire system of solar panels.

West Virginia is one of top coal producers in the United States, but it’s a distinction that just cannot continue following last February’s devastating coal slurry leak — and especially if the country wants to solve its carbon crisis.

It’s clear that renewable energy is the way forward. In an incredible sign of promise, 100 residents in the small West Virginia town of Shepherdstown in Jefferson County decided to band together to spread some sunshine in a first-of-its-kind community-funded project.

As Think Progress reports, a local church was able to install 60 solar panels on its roof for a single dollar instead of the $55,000 it would have cost.

MORE: These 10 States Are Leading the Way in Solar Power. What’s Their Secret?

How did they do it? Well, it literally pays to be green. According to Think Progress, nearly 100 families and businesses installed demand response controllers (which act like a virtual power plant) from Mosaic Power on their water heaters. The Maryland-based company then sells the electricity created by the heaters back to the power grid. Mosaic also pays participants $100 a year for installing the controllers. Instead of keeping the $100, the Shepherdstown participants generously put that money toward solar panels for the church. The panels will reportedly generate half of the church’s annual energy needs.

This innovative idea was pioneered by nonprofit group Solar Holler, who aims to help “non-profits and municipalities can go solar with no cost — upfront or in the future.”

It appears that the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church members had been interested in solar panels for several years, but didn’t know how to fund it until Solar Holler came along. “There’s certainly a common understanding that we’ve got to be good stewards of the environment — it’s a Christian value, but it’s really a human value,” Than Hitt, a member of the church who worked on the solar project, tells Think Progress. “It’s something that resonates with people, and it’s something that we know we need to do, especially in West Virginia.”

Encouragingly, the church project is only the first of many more crowd-funded solar installations at nonprofits in West Virginia. Solar Holler founder Dan Conant tells Think Progress that there are about seven more projects lined up with the goal of hitting each of the state’s 55 counties within five years.

If America’s coal heartland can go solar, so can the rest of the country.

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