SHEPHERDSTOWN — Residents here are celebrating a first-of-its-kind project that they say will make solar power affordable to churches and nonprofits across West Virginia.
Tuesday, members of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church gathered with local leaders for a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony. The project has been in the works for a year, organizers said.
The solar panels will produce nearly half of the electricity the church uses in a typical year, according to Than Hitt, a church member and project organizer.
“Today we come together to dedicate the largest community-supported solar project in West Virginia,” Hitt said. “This project is good for the environment, good for our church’s financial health and good for the Shepherdstown community.”
Working with Shepherdstown-based Solar Holler, the church developed a project plan that allowed it to go solar without a traditional fundraising campaign.
“Financing solar power in West Virginia faces several obstacles, but we’ve overcome them by developing a new model that taps into existing community support,” said Dan Conant, founder of Solar Holler.
Nearly 100 families and businesses in and around Shepherdstown joined in an innovative crowd-funding campaign, Conant said.
The money came through the installation of “demand response” controllers on home and business electric water heaters by Mosaic Power, a smart grid technology company in Frederick, Md.
Mosaic Power typically pays property owners $100 per tank per year for taking part in the virtual power plant. In Shepherdstown, project participants agreed to donate those funds to pay off a loan taken out to install the church solar project.
The installation was completed by Berkeley Springs-based MTV Solar.
Conant said Shepherdstown Presbyterian’s approach will provide an example for others.
“For the first time, West Virginia’s nonprofit organizations can go solar with help from their members and friends – protecting our environment while lowering electricity bills,” he said.
The project loan will be paid off in less than five years through revenue from the water heater installations, Hitt said.
Said Randy Tremba, the church’s pastor: “The earth and its wondrous web of life is clearly not of our own making. It’s a gift and we know it. Or should. It’s our job to sing its praises, photograph its wonders and treat it with utmost gratitude and respect.”
Jim Auxer, mayor of Shepherdstown, also had praise for the project. “As the oldest town in West Virginia, in Shepherdstown we pride ourselves in both our history and being ahead of the curve,” he said.