CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s almost over.
In about three weeks, people will go to their local precincts and vote. The millions and millions of dollars of campaign spending will dry up. The “I approve this message” ads will go away. People will throw away yard signs or maybe stick them on the walls of garages.
Congressional candidates have raised more than $1.1 billion so far this cycle, and while elections certainly matter, most of it will be wasted — spent on uncompetitive races or aimed at a tiny slice of undecided voters. But not all of it needs to be wasted. Those yard signs can serve a higher purpose than garage memorabilia or landfill fodder.
New Vision Renewable Energy, a Christian nonprofit based in Philippi, uses old political yard signs as the base for small solar-powered LED lights that they manufacture and distribute to developing countries.
New Vision takes the signs — made of Coroplast, a light-weight corrugated plastic — cuts them to size, puts a small solar panel on one side and three strips of stick-on LED lights on the other. The company puts a special type of mirrored film underneath the LED lights to maximize the brightness.
The 3M Company, a multinational corporation based in Minnesota, donated enough mirrored film for about 44,000 lights. Each sign can make six license plate-sized lights. Each light also comes with a small rechargeable battery, like the type that comes on an electric drill.
The lights sell for about $100 each and New Vision partners with other companies or nonprofits to try to get them to places around the world that don’t have access to dependable electricity.
“We’re an energy producing state,” said Ruston Seaman, New Vision’s president. “We export across our state borders, natural gas, coal, energy, raw materials. Why shouldn’t West Virginia be exporting other energy-related products…