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Rotary hears about Solar Holler

ELKINS –Elkins Rotary Club members heard guest speaker Leah Cunningham give details about the Solar Holler organization Monday.

The mission of Solar Holler, based in Huntington, is to relentlessly pursue innovative approaches that make solar the most affordable choice for their neighbors across Appalachia, Cunningham said.

They are determined to continue powering America through the 21st century with clean energy that empowers and renews communities.

Solar Holler works with homeowners, small businesses, churches, libraries, non-profits, industrial facilities and affordable housing.

“My dad was a coal miner and my dad’s dad worked on the gas lines. We feel it is very important to honor where we came from, but also to gain knowledge of where we are going,” Cunningham said.

“Solar is currently the fastest-growing industry in the country. We are getting left behind, so it would be a shame considering that for generations Appalachians powered America.

“It would be a shame if we got left behind if the rest of the country takes off with solar and other renewables,” she said. “We want to continue that legacy.”

Cunningham shared one of her favorite experiences as a Solar Holler representative.

“Back in 2013, one of our very first projects we focused on churches and homeless shelters. The reason being that the power prices keep going up, and they cannot afford to pay their power bills. So our first project was with the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church,” she said.

“We worked with them to essentially install water heater monitors in their homes. By doing so they were able to basically pull their credits to bank them in to put towards a solar installation for the church. It ended up costing the congregation of that church a dollar to install solar panels, which will save them over $100,000 over the next 25 years. That saved money can now go back into the congregation.

“Within a week, we completely outstripped the capacity of anybody in West Virginia who knew how to install solar. So we partnered with the coal field development corporation, which is a fabulous non-profit in West Virginia. Their Rewire Appalachia program engages former coal miners and teaches them how to do solar,” she said.

“We currently are hiring our fourth full-time crew and we have gotten a bunch of positive media coverage for that development program and for the work that we are doing in the community,” she said.

Cunningham explained why many people in West Virginia are not familiar with solar panels.

“You don’t see a lot of solar around this area yet. That is because traditionally we have paid much less for electricity. The coal is mined there, the electricity is generated here, so for a long time West Virginians enjoyed lower power prices,” she said.

“However, in some places you start to see power prices double since 2004. Down south, they reported an 11% rate hike last year just to keep up,” she said.

“The benefit of solar is that you are able to produce electricity on your rooftop or in your yard for less that what you are paying in utility. The price point now is that it is not just the environmentalists that have gone solar, but there is actually an economic reason to do so because it ultimately saves you money and provides you a nice return.”

Those interested may go to the Solar Power Facebook page, visit the website solarholler.com, send an email to info@solarholler.com, or call 304-376-9000.

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