SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Members of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, Solar Holler and the greater Shepherdstown community gathered on church property Tuesday for the dedication of the new solar power system that will provide electricity to Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church.
Guests were invited to view the 60 solar panels on the roof of the church, listen to speakers and enjoy music and light refreshments at the event.
Solar Holler, a Shepherdstown-based startup, is dedicated to working with nonprofit groups, churches and community organizations across West Virginia to make solar power affordable, said Dan Conant, founder.
Conant said one of the reasons it may be difficult for nonprofit groups to switch to solar power is the lack of funding assistance in the form of grants or incentives.
“It’s really hard for nonprofits because all of the solar incentives are through tax credits,” Conant said. “If you don’t pay taxes in the first place, you can’t get a credit. Very few nonprofits of any kind have gone solar, and what we’ve done here has created a model that can work for any group in West Virginia.”
According to Conant, the project, which cost $55,000, was crowd-funded. However, unlike other fundraising efforts, Conant said there was never a direct request for money.
Instead, 100 families, businesses and community groups in the Shepherdstown area installed remote controls on their electric water tanks.
“The little remote controls reduce pollution, reduce blackouts and create a new revenue stream for the church,” he said. “By having 100 folks install these devices through Mosaic Power, we created a funding stream to pay off the loans within five years, even with no federal incentives and no state help. It cost the church $1.”
If there are plenty of sunny days, excess electricity generated by the solar panels can be stored up or transferred back to the power grid. The church will receive a monthly electric bill that shows how many kilowatt hours were used as well as how many were produced, and calculate the amount of the bill using the difference.
Conant said solar power is a viable energy option in West Virginia. According to Conant, Shepherdstown gets about as much sunlight as Miami, Florida.
Than Hitt, a member of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, addressed the people gathered outside the church. Hitt thanked people who contributed to the project, and said the project is about more than the environment.
“(When we came up with the idea for this project) we knew about the environmental benefits of solar power. We knew about the longterm economic benefits. We really had no idea that this project could also build community. It could strengthen our resolve to work together for a clean energy future in West Virginia and Appalachia,” Hitt said. “We’ve invested in our future, and we hope to be a model for the state.”
According to Hitt, the 60 solar panels on the roof of the church will produce approximately 50 percent of the church’s electricity.
Conant said Solar Holler is planning more solar projects in the Eastern Panhandle as well as West Virginia as a whole. The group’s next project, which will help the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library go solar, is just beginning, Conant said.