Here at The Hub, we love a story of true West Virginian genius. Heard the one about how high-tech West Virginia ingenuity is changing how much some of our communities pay for power?
Okay. So, the real-life example we’re going to use in this story is a little church in Sheperdstown. But to really get across the point of the story, you need to imagine that it’s any community building in your town – a school, perhaps, or a library. Because it could be. That’s the point here.
Now, on the face of it, this is a story about solar panels. But it’s really a story about a great West Virginia community banding together to be smart, as a community, and save a lot of money.
The leaders of the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church had long considered the cost savings that installing solar panels would mean for their congregation. As it is with any household, the cost of electricity is a major chunk of any small community organization’s operating budget.
Unfortunately, nonprofit organizations – like a church, school or library – don’t qualify for the tax credits and rebates that homeowners and businesses get. And so, because of the substantial upfront costs of installing solar, the very organizations that could most benefit from reducing their energy costs are sort of blocked out.
Until now. This is where the “West Virginia ingenuity” part comes in.
A group of very brilliant young West Virginians calling themselves Solar Holler has invented a way for nonprofit organizations to install solar panels on their buildings free of charge. It relies on a little community support, sort of like crowdfunding. But the one, massive difference here is that, unlike crowdfunding, the supporters actually don’t need to provide any money.
Bear with me. This thing is genius. Let’s walk through it.
1. So, the church in Sheperdstown wants to have solar installed. First thing that needs to happen is for 75 local families to sign up to pledge their support. What do they have to do?
2. They don’t have to contribute any money. The 75 families sign up – free of charge – to have a remote control device installed on their electric water tanks. This is the techy part of this story, and the crux of the model.
3. A Maryland company called Mosaic Power remotely controls all the water heaters in its network, switching them off very briefly during times when they are not needed, saving the grid a lot of power and reducing the chance of surges and blackouts.
4. For this, the electricity provider pays Mosaic a fee. In turn, Mosaic gives $100 a year to each of its households that have a remote device on their water tank.
5. But, in the case of the Shepherdstown Church project, the local families agree to waive their $100 a year, and this money then goes to repay the investor that installed the solar panels.
And, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Once Sheperdstown’s solar system is paid off, those continued annual $100 payments from Mosaic will help other nonprofits around West Virginia go solar!
In addition to the Shepherdstown Church project, Solar Holler has also installed solar panels using this crowd-supported system at the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library, and has just launched a campaign to do the same for the Coalfield Development Corporation in Wayne County.
Does this sound like something that could happen in your community?