West Virginia is coal country, so it is somewhat shocking to hear of solar power co-ops popping up there, but apparently they are. The first meeting of the Charleston solar co-op will be held soon at West Virginia State University. Co-ops have already been formed in Monroe and Fayette counties, with help from WV Sun, a nonprofit that works to bring solar power to West Virginia. The Fayette county organization has 36 members and the Monroe co-op has 80. Two others are starting up in Wheeling and Morgantown.
“We’ve been blown away by the number of people who are interested in solar. People want to go solar and are really motivated to help organize solar co-ops in their community,” explained Ben Delman, the communications manager for Community Power Network, an organization that oversees WV Sun.
One advantage of joining a co-op is that members can join together to make solar power system purchases and get a price break when they do. Joining a membership group can also be very effective for sharing information and learning together.
West Virginia might not seem like the likeliest candidate for solar power, but the state receives about 20% more sunshine than Germany, which is a world leader in solar. And there is big controversy regarding the coal industry there right now.
The state reportedly does not have a solar power carve-out, though having one would obviously help support solar. Instead, the state’s policies related to this clean form of energy have been given an “F” letter grade by the website SolarPowerRocks.*
It is exactly for this reason that solar co-ops can do so much good in states where public policy does not support solar power. In fact, West Virginia’s net metering situation has been described as anti-solar.
Of course, it only seems logical that a state which relies heavily on fossil fuels for its main industries would not be very open to alternative energy. Many people are focused first on staying employed to get their paychecks, so they don’t want anything to threaten their livelihoods. But the coal industry there is declining fast, electricity prices are jumping, and people are looking for how to get involved in and benefit from the future of energy.
One thing that might be beneficial is cross-training programs that educate coal and oil workers in solar and wind turbine installation and maintenance. This approach would require support at the legislative level, and, sadly, that might not happen in a culture that is very pro fossil fuels.
Image Credit: WV Sun/Alt Energy
*Edited to remove any mention to a West Virginian renewable energy portfolio standard, something West Virginia does not or ever has had.