HUNTINGTON - Thanks to an anonymous and generous donor, the Huntington WV Area Habitat for Humanity's ReStore and administrative office building at 240 3rd Ave. in Huntington will soon run entirely on solar energy.
Solar Holler, a West Virginia-based solar energy developer with an office in Huntington, recently completed the installation of Habitat's 53.76 kW roof-mounted solar energy system, which is the company's largest solar project to date in West Virginia.
It consists of 168 solar modules with inverters and optimizers, as well as monitoring. The array will produce no more electricity than the building requires annually, while maximizing the use of available space on the roof.
According to Solar Holler Founder Dan Conant, monthly savings from solar energy comes in the form of "net metering" credits, which utilities are required to offer.
"On sunny days, the meter will spin backwards, and at night the energy is drawn from the electric grid," Conant said. "At the end of the month, the utility will only charge for the difference or even carry a credit forward to future months."
The system installed at Habitat will save approximately $500 per month, with a nearly $150,000 cost savings over the 25-year life expectancy of the solar panels. The project was the largest nonprofit solar project ever built in West Virginia by Solar Holler.
Dayna Carter, resources development manager at the Huntington WV Area Habitat for Humanity, said thanks to the generous donor, the nonprofit agency will be able to build more houses.
David Michael, WV Habitat for Humanity's executive director and CEO, says the savings will allow the organization to build three more houses.
"We wouldn't have been able to do that without this energy savings," he said. "All the costs savings help benefit the housing ministry in the end."
Michael says the nonprofit has built four homes in the area that also had solar panels installed on the roofs.
"We did solar panels off a subdivision in East Pea Ridge and two in Huntington, one in the 2500 block of 9th Avenue and one in the 1200 block of Jefferson Avenue," he said. "The electricity costs savings for these residential homes brings a great added value to each of them."
He says any time the nonprofit can save money on the administrative side of operations, it is a good thing.
"That becomes money that we can put directly back into our construction program and better meet the needs of our future homebuyers," he said. "Our building is located in the perfect spot for maximizing the sun's solar energy so installing solar panels on our building was a no-brainer."
Leah Cunningham, the community outreach director at Solar Holler, says traditionally West Virginia has always had lower energy prices compared with the rest of the country.
"However, we are seeing those electricity prices going up and up," she said. "So the interest in solar panels continues to go up and up as well."
Conant said he was honored to work with the Habitat affiliate.
"Working with amazing community-driven organizations like Habitat is why we started our company in the first place - to make solar energy the most affordable choice for our neighbors across Appalachia, so that Appalachia can continue powering America through the 21st Century," Conant said. "Our team of 30 folks from Solar Holler poured their hearts into making this project shine, and the love and craftsmanship that went into it certainly shows."
In 2018, Conant estimated the company had done about 100 solar panel installations across the state on homes, businesses and nonprofits.
"Across Appalachia, we're working with dozens of families this year to help them mine the sun for clean energy to affordably power their homes and lives," he said. "We are making it easier and affordable to all."
Conant said the company offers energy analysis, financing, engineering and installation, which is making it easier and more affordable for everyone.
"We have loan programs with no up-front costs," he explained. "We use our deep knowledge of energy policy and financing to build programs that work. We are a rare breed - a fully licensed electrical contracting firm with policy and financing expertise, a finger on the pulse of cutting edge technology, and an absolute commitment to using the power of solar energy to revitalize Appalachian communities."
Conant says solar replaces the traditional power costs that continue to increase with a fixed solar payment that eventually more than pays for itself and in the end saves the homeowner, business owner or organization money over the 25-year span of the solar panels.
Conant says Solar Holler continues to work with Coalfield Development in Wayne County to train the workforce it needs.
"We have 60 employees and are growing due to the unprecedented demand in the state," he said. "We worked with partners to launch the first solar job training and apprenticeship program in West Virginia - bringing jobs and opportunities to the coalfields. Now, all across West Virginia, our teams of trained and talented electricians and installers are building beautiful solar systems that are remaking our state for all West Virginians."
The solar panel array at the Habitat for Humanity location on 3rd Avenue will go online soon, Carter said.
"We are in the last stage of completion with AEP so that we can go online," she said. "I'm hopeful that will happen next week."