Advocates Hope Large Solar Installation On Shepherd Library Inspires More Solar In W.Va.

Sep 18, 2019


More than 180 solar panels are now on the roof of Shepherd University’s Scarborough Library. It’s one of the largest solar panel installations in West Virginia.

The panels will generate an estimated 67,000-kilowatt hours of power a year, according to Jeff Groff, an associate professor of physics at Shepherd and the chairman of the Department of Environmental and Physical Sciences.

Groff said that amount of power is equal to about 10 percent of the library’s annual energy consumption. Or enough energy to power six and half average American homes for one year.

 

Groff said these are just estimates, though, and it will take some time to know the full impact. Monetarily, the library estimates it will save at least $120,000 over the panels’ 20-year lifetime.

 

The installation was made possible due to a $100,000 grant from a Massachusetts-based company called EBSCO Information Services. All the panels were paid for through the grant, except for one that was donated by a Shepherd alumnus. The installation took about three weeks to complete.

 

“I thought, why not try to apply for this? It seemed like there was nothing to lose,” Rachel Hally said. Getting the solar panels was Hally’s idea.

 

Rachel Hally and Jeff Groff.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Hally is the coordinator of collections at the Scarborough Library. She learned about the grant after receiving an email from the EBSCO company. This particular grant is only for libraries that want to install solar.

 

“This state has such a strong culture of coal and other extractive sources of energy, so to bring this forward and to get people excited and interested in solar, it's a wonderful way for us to promote renewable energy within our community,” Hally said.

 

Hally and Groff worked together to write and apply for the grant. Groff said the installation won’t just save the library money, but it also creates a tool he can use in his classroom.

 

“One of the concepts I like to get across to students is just the idea about how much energy we actually consume; the vast quantities of energy we consume. So, when you have some energy production that's local, and you can monitor it, it really drives home the point about how much energy that we are consuming,” Groff said.

 

Dan Conant is the founder and CEO of Solar Holler.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

 

Solar In West Virginia

 

The solar panels on Shepherd’s library were installed by a West Virginia company called Solar Holler.

 

Founded in 2013, this company of 40 employees is one of the first solar installation companies in the state. It’s headquartered in Shepherdstown but has a larger office in Huntington.

 

Dan Conant founded the company to give people more options when it comes to their electricity.

 

“People have never had a choice in West Virginia. They've always been locked into one single utility that they had no say over. They have no say over what the rates are, or what they pay, and all of the sudden here along comes solar, which is giving them an option to lock in their utility bills to protect themselves from rate increases year after year,” Conant said.

 

For most people, solar doesn’t replace your normal utility bill, just helps to reduce the amount of electricity you pay for from your local electric or natural gas company.

 

Conant said while homeowners and businesses have access to a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of their solar panels, nonprofits like Shepherd’s library don’t. That’s why the grant was so important.

 

On the state level, in West Virginia, there are no incentives for homeowners, businesses, or anyone to go solar.

 

Solar Holler is headquartered in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The company's slogan is "Mine the Sun."
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

But this doesn’t discourage Conant. He said despite the lack of incentives, solar is growing in West Virginia.

 

“Solar is cheaper. And so, as a result, I think the industry is going to continue to grow for the foreseeable future, as more and more folks understand that,” Conant said.

 

Conant said so far in 2019, his company has worked with 200 families in West Virginia to install solar. Since Solar Holler was founded six years ago, he said the number of their projects in West Virginia has increased every year, and Conant said many of their installations are in the southern part of the state.

 

According to the nonprofit Solar Foundation, in 2018, solar installation was up 17 percent in West Virginia. But nationwide, the state is ranked 49th in installed solar capacity.

 

Hally said she hopes their solar installation demonstrates that solar is possible in West Virginia.

 

“We're probably not going to stay the largest nonprofit installation for long, and I think that's a good thing,” she said. “So, I hope that it kind of has a snowball effect where people hear that we were able to do this, learn about how we did it, and then hopefully try to figure out their own path to get more installations up.”

 

Hally hopes more homeowners and businesses recognize the cost saving opportunities offered through solar, and she encourages folks to seek out their options if they want to install their own panels.