— Eastern Panhandle embraces power of solar co-ops.

Solar energy is gaining ground in West Virginia, despite the state’s history in fossil fuels—or perhaps because of it. As more people realize the possibilities and advantages of going solar, West Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods (WV SUN) has stepped up to help. The nonprofit organization works with communities across the region to develop solar co-ops, which they see as an economic initiative for towns needing new industries and jobs, and an economic solution for residents who otherwise couldn’t afford the constant rate increases.

So far, over a dozen of these co-ops have been created in West Virginia, and the campaign has now made its way to the Eastern Panhandle—where many have expressed interest in their program.

“Since 2014, we have been educating people about solar and how they can use solar to power their homes, farms, and businesses,” said Autumn Long, WV SUN program director. “Going solar with a co-op provides participants with the peace of mind that they are getting the best value for their investment in solar.”

Back in August, WV SUN held several open sessions for the public in Jefferson County, where a new co-op is forming—one of three in the Eastern Panhandle already. Those who attended a session were provided an opportunity to learn about the benefits of solar and how the co-op works, as well as speak with other people in their community who are interested in going solar.

Long knows there are many reasons why people choose to purchase solar energy, and she and the team at WV SUN believe purchasing together helps individuals capitalize on these reasons by building a stronger community committed to solar.

“Solar empowers people to lower their energy costs, take control of where their electricity comes from, sparks local job creation, and offers electricity from a clean fuel source,” she pointed out.

The benefits of joining a solar co-op versus purchasing individually are two-fold: not only do members secure a good price, but the process of finding and installing quality solar from a trusted installer is much easier.

“Co-op members select one company through an open and competitive bidding process,” Long explained. “The group purchase lowers customer and material acquisition costs for installers. They are then able to pass along these savings to co-op members in their bid.”

From there, co-op members receive a personalized bid from the group’s chosen installer, and decide if going solar is right for them. Joining a co-op isn’t a binding commitment to go solar with the group. However, WV SUN is there every step of the way throughout the process to answer questions, offer feedback, resources, and guidance, and do what they can to ensure residents are making informed decisions.

“We want co-op members to feel confident in going to solar energy,” Long assured.

Residents of Jefferson County are invited to join the Jefferson County Solar co-op right here. The Jefferson County Solar co-op is sponsored by Renew Jefferson, the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County, and the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club.

 

— Kristyn is a freelance writer based in Charles Town, WV.

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