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County In Coal-Rich West Virginia Sees The Solar Light

Few states are as associated with a single industry as West Virginia is with coal. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, as recently as 2022, 89% of the state’s total electricity net generation came from coal-powered electric power plants. 

West Virginia was the second-largest coal producer in the United States that year, accounting for 14% of total U.S. coal production. Given its heavy reliance on coal, it’s big news when an entire school district goes solar.

That’s what’s happening in West Virginia’s Wayne County Schools district. In November 2023, the district reached an agreement with installer and developer Solar Holler on a historic plan to solarize every available building in the county under one Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

Photo Courtesy Solar Holler

According to a Nov. 29 press release, up to 10,000 solar panels are expected to deliver as much as 5.33 megawatts (MW) of power to Wayne County Schools each year. Solar Holler estimates that the deal will result in nearly $6.5 million in energy cost savings over a 25-year period. The project should be completed by the end of 2025.

The agreement represents the largest PPA signed in West Virginia to date and also the biggest “single demonstration of solar” in public schools in Appalachia.

It builds on investments prioritized for coal communities in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and recent changes to state law that facilitate solar deployment. The anticipated financial impact is enough to fund the salaries of three additional teachers for the duration of their careers. 

The partnership has special relevance to Solar Holler.

Photo Courtesy wayneschoolswv

“Some of our staff graduated from Wayne County Schools or have kids who are students there now,” Dan Conant, Solar Holler founder and CEO, said in a statement. “It’s the heart of coal country, where our state’s proud history of energy production is rooted. It’s literally the community that’s helped build our business, so we’re really grateful for the opportunity to shine a light on what solar can do for public institutions and education systems right here in Southern West Virginia.”  

Notably, the deal had the backing of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator who announced that he won’t be running for re-election in 2024. As the Associated Press reported, Manchin played a major role in shaping the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Let’s be clear — this investment in Wayne County is a direct result of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Manchin said in a written statement. “This type of investment in rural America to create jobs, make our country more energy secure, and lower electric costs is exactly what the IRA was designed to do.”

Video Courtesy Solar Hollar

The IRA includes tax incentives for projects placed in coal communities, the AP reported. It also contains new financing options to increase investment in energy infrastructure and funding designed to increase U.S. production of energy technologies.

The partnership also owes a great deal to 2021 legislation passed by state lawmakers that legalized PPAs in West Virginia. With a PPA structure, businesses and nonprofits such as Wayne County Schools can realize the benefits of solar without the upfront capital investment, according to Solar Holler. 

Under the terms of the agreement, Solar Holler owns the system and assumes the responsibility of designing, developing, permitting, operating, and maintaining it for the 25-year lifetime of the PPA.

In return, Wayne County Schools agrees to purchase the energy generated by the panels at a predetermined rate, providing them with a “predictable and affordable source of clean energy.”

“Transitioning to solar power resonates beyond economics — it’s a commitment to nurturing our students and community,” Todd Alexander, Wayne County Schools superintendent, said in a statement. “By redirecting savings towards our schools, we’re investing in educational excellence and a brighter tomorrow for our children and West Virginia as a whole.”


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