West Virginia Church Makes Solar History
Last week in West Virginia, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church members, project organizers, and local leaders held a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new solar installation at the church. While the church’s installation is by no means the first of its kind, the residents and businesses who made it possible have also made history. They launched a new financing model that makes solar possible for churches and non-profits in one of the most coal-dependent states in America.
“Today we come together to dedicate the largest community-supported solar project in West Virginia,” said Than Hitt, a church member and project organizer. “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 Hollar, West Virginia’s first solar financing company, the church developed a project plan that allowed it to go solar at no cost and 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. “For the first time, West Virginia’s non-profit organizations can go solar with help from their members and friends — protecting our environment while lowering electricity bills.”
Using the Solar Holler model, nearly 100 families and businesses in the Shepherdstown community made the church project possible through an innovative crowd funding campaign. They didn’t rely on bake sales or simple donations. Instead, they raised the money through the use of controllers on their electric water heaters.
The water heater controllers have been installed and operated by Mosaic Power, a smart grid technology company in Frederick, Maryland. Mosaic Power manages water heaters as a virtual power plant — responding to the electricity grid in real time to make it more efficient, and reduce blackouts and pollution. Mosaic pays property owners $100 per tank per year for participation in their 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 project loan will be paid off in under five years through revenue from the water heater installations. The church will benefit from lower electrical bills while generating electricity that reduces air and water pollution, consistent with the church’s commitment to creation care.
Randy Tremba, pastor of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, said “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 the utmost gratitude and respect. It is sacred. Every step we take is on holy ground.”
But the solar installation isn’t just good for creation — it’s also good for the economy. “Solar power creates good jobs in West Virginia and has the potential to produce many more,” said Julie Litwin, a resident of Shepherdstown and employee of MTV Solar, the company that completed the instillation. “The new financial model created by SPC and Solar Holler, opens the door to more solar industry development across the state.”
Jim Auxer, mayer of Shepherdstown, said “As the oldest town in West Virginia, in Shepherdstown we pride ourselves in both our history, and being ahead of the curve. This project is a first of its kind in West Virginia, blazing a trail for all of West Virginia’s communities to follow.”
Rebecca Barnes, Presbyterian Church (USA) Earth Care Congregations coordinator, said “This is a day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! The faithful stewardship of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, and their trust in — and care for — future generations to come, is such a great model of a church discerning God’s call in this time and in this place. More and more churches across the PCUSA want to add solar panels to their building as part of their ministry, so having this success story is such an asset to the denomination. I do indeed rejoice in what God is doing in and through this congregation as they care for God’s creation.”
News Source: Presbyterian Church (USA)
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