HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — Jefferson County residents, county officials and representatives from the business and tourism industries gathered at the former Cliffside Quality Inn on Wednesday morning to celebrate the hotel’s conversion into a solar-powered facility.
Matthew Knott, owner of River Riders, purchased the Cliffside Quality Inn in October. Knott said he had been interested in purchasing the hotel, located adjacent to River Riders along U.S. 340 near Harpers Ferry, for years, but said the foreclosure sale provided him with the opportunity.
Knott said he had wanted to buy the hotel to provide River Riders customers with an all-inclusive experience.
“We bought it as an addition to River Riders so we could have a full-service offering for the folks who come to town,” he said. “A few years ago, when we added the ziplining, we saw the number of people who do multiple activities increase. It used to be they’d go out on the river and then they’re gone. Now, people who do multiple things have access to lodging and meals.”
Knott said his purchasing the hotel allowed the 32 employees of the hotel to keep their jobs, adding that the staff is expanding and he is now hiring for the summer.
The purchasing of the 289-panel solar array that sits atop the hotel’s roof was financed in part through the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, Knott said. Knott was also awarded a Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, grant through the USDA to assist with the $300,000 cost of installing the solar energy system.
Mountain View Solar, a Berkeley Springs-based solar company, installed the solar panels in December, and Knott said the solar array on the hotel is the third largest in the state.
“The solar array generates about $1,000 of electricity a month right now. We actually have a monitor set up in the lobby so you can see what it’s producing in real-time. We also have car charging stations. Even if we don’t save much money just with the electricity, we have that goodwill and the fact that we’re being environmentally conscious may cause us to see an increase in business.”
Colin Williams, vice president of sales and marketing with Mountain View Solar, said solar panels work by absorbing photons from sunlight and converting them into electrons. When run through an inverter, Williams said, the electric energy becomes an AC current that powers the building.
Williams said installing solar panels on a commercial building can be a long-term investment.
“With solar power, you’re powered by both the grid and your rooftop. The energy you make on the roof is energy you didn’t buy, and it saves you money on your electric bill. In most cases, for businesses in West Virginia, you can see a return on your investment in six to 10 years, and the system will make power for 25-30 years,” he said.
Williams said in many countries around the world, solar power is gaining popularity since the Sun is a free fuel source that cannot be exhausted. He said solar power is catching on in the United States as well.
“In America, it’s growing rapidly at a rate of about 25 percent over the past six years. Solar has created 200,000 new jobs in America. In the Mountain State, solar is creating jobs. West Virginia is an energy-producing state and we have been for generations, and we can continue to do that by harnessing the sun.”
Knott said he has some more ideas for environmentally-conscious additions to the hotel and River Riders, including implementing recycling practices at the hotel and making the guest cabins more energy-efficient.
-Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.