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Economy

Solar Energy Finds A Foothold in Cabell, Wayne Counties With Expanding Co-op

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Robyn Schneiderman, Solar Holler
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A Solar Holler installation on a home in Kenova, West Virginia

In Huntington, some local residents are banding together around harnessing the power of the sun as clean energy. They have created a co-op with the help of Solar Holler, an organization that brings people together to provide financing and a group discount on solar installations to ultimately help people save money on their energy bills.

Solar Holler offers co-ops for West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, Southern Ohio, and the Western tip of Maryland. The Huntington co-op spans both Wayne and Cabell counties.

Before installing solar panels, Solar Holler conducts free surveys to make certain that the property has enough space for installation and enough sunlight. Not everyone who wanted to join the Huntington co-op was able to pass the property assessment.

Solar Holler’s Director of Marketing Jessica Edgarly Walsh said that the Huntington area co-op was formed when the Southside Neighborhood Organization contacted them.

“They were vetting us to understand if solar would work,” Walsh said.

After talking within the organization, and with other folks in the greater Huntington area who'd worked with the company, the Southside board moved to set up a solar partnership and to share that information with more in the community.

Southside Neighborhood Organization President Connie Reed Beaty took notice of the price decrease she was seeing. Beaty noted that homeowners could finance the swap and simply switch a utility bill for a solar payment, with no upfront cost. Often, their monthly payments were lower, she said.

Walsh said it’s a common misconception that solar power is more expensive. “Most people assume they're going to have to put a bunch of cash on the table, and maybe they'll see a return but the idea that, in year one, you could be spending less on your power than you would if you had just stuck with a utility bill. That's really surprising.”

Through net metering, a system that adds surplus solar energy to the grid in exchange for credits, owners of solar installations are also compensated for the surplus energy they put on the power grid. “If the home isn't using power at that time, all that solar energy flows onto the grid, and the utility meter actually spins backwards, building up a credit for the home, recognizing that the home is pushing power onto the grid.” she said.

Walsh adds that she has not had any maintenance done in the six years of having a solar panel. “Every time I go down the basement to do the laundry, I hear a little tick tick tick... reminds me it's chugging away up there on the roof. It's an electrical system and so there's no moving parts. So it's very different than a vehicle or something that needs ongoing maintenance. It's an electrical system that's going to work as part of your household.”

Beaty said that the step to solar energy is a way of modernizing Appalachian homes. “We live in old houses and we need new ways to refurbish them and take care of them. They’re our homes and we invest in our future and our home’s future.”

Walsh sees the transition toward modern energy sources as a natural extension of Appalachia’s energy production heritage.

“Many, many of our staff come from generations and generations with their feet firmly planted in central Appalachia,” she said. “We do feel a close tie to this idea that we power the nation, that that has been our legacy and our responsibility in a way. In addition, we build our communities by supporting our families with good jobs.”

Solar Holler works with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to train a skilled Appalachian workforce to install and repair panels for buyers in Appalachia. Walsh said they’ve, “grown 50 percent in the last 12 months, and so we've really leaned on the IBEW membership folks to make sure we can grow our crews with really highly experienced, talented, trained electricians.”

Beaty said that she believes the success in Appalachia has paved a way through a variety of opportunities. “It’s a great thing for Cabell and Wayne County and for all of the state that we have cost-effective options.”

The Huntington Co-op is open for home-owners, business-owners, and non-profits in both Cabell and Wayne County. The final date to make a request for a free property assessment is Aug. 13, and the signing deadline for the Huntington-Area co-op is Aug. 31. More information can be found at https://www.solarholler.com.


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