Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church dedicates largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia
Shepherdstown, WV—In a first of its kind project, residents and businesses in this West Virginia small town have come together to do what was once out of reach—making solar power accessible for any church or non-profit in one of the most coal-dependent states in America.
Tuesday morning, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church members, project organizers, and local leaders held a ribbon cutting for the completed project, the culmination of a year-long, community-wide effort. Not only is the installation the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia, but it also launches a new financing model that makes solar possible for non-profits across the state. The solar panels will produce nearly half of the electricity the church uses in a typical year.
“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 Holler, 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 and around Shepherdstown made the project possible through an innovative crowd funding campaign. Funding for the project was raised through the installation of ‘demand response’ controllers on community members’ 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. Through this service, Mosaic Power reduces blackouts and pollution.
Mosaic Power 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 5 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 utmost gratitude and respect. It is sacred. Every step we take is on holy ground.
The installation was completed by MTV Solar of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Julie Litwin of MTV Solar, a Shepherdstown resident, described the economic potential for West Virginia in renewable energy. “Solar power creates good jobs in West Virginia and has the potential to produce many more,” Litwin said. “The new financial model created by SPC and Solar Holler, opens the door to more solar industry development across the state.”
Solar Holler’s next project is with Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library; 75 water heaters are needed to fund that project. Homeowners and businesses who would like to learn more and support the project can go to solarholler.com.
Jim Auxer, mayor 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. It has been an incredible demonstration of community spirit. In particular, I want to thank the volunteers of the Historic Landmarks and Planning Commissions for seeing through a project that maintains our historic spirit while leading our state into the 21st Century.”
Rebecca Barnes, PC-USA Earthcare Program 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.”
For more information about the project, or to support other West Virginia solar projects, go to solarholler.com