Front Porch Blog

Solar in Southwest Virginia recognized in national competition

Members of the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia gather at Pennington Gap Town Hall

The locally-driven Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia is being recognized in a national competition that supports community groups for their innovative solar program designs and the ability to reach new markets.

Known as the “Solar in Your Community Challenge,” the competition is designed to incentivize the development of new approaches to make electricity more affordable while expanding solar access across America. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office and administered by the International City/County Management Association.

The Solar Workgroup was awarded the “Solar Discovery” prize for their work in identifying solar “ambassador” projects and expanding workforce development, education and outreach, creating solar champions in their communities. Through its commercial-scale group purchase programs, the workgroup plans to begin construction on 3 megawatts of solar by the end of 2019 in Southwest Virginia’s coalfield counties.

Members of the workgroup assess a building for solar potential with solar developers.

Communities in Southwest Virginia face a significant energy burden, with families paying up to 11.9% of their monthly income on their electricity bills. Innovative solar programs supported by this Challenge can help reduce the electricity bills for local governments, residents, and businesses.

The workgroup issued a Request for Proposals for six solar ambassador projects in 2018, with construction expected to begin in September 2019. The workgroup is in the process of evaluating proposals for the second round of the group purchase programs that includes 12 additional solar ambassador projects expected to begin construction before the end of the year. Projects in the two programs range from 700 kW project for the Ridgeview High School in Clintwood, to a 5 kilowatt project on the Iron Works Cycling shop in Big Stone Gap

The challenge ran for 18 months from May 2017 to October 2018 to improve solar access for nonprofits, faith-based organizations, state and local governments, and low- and moderate-income communities, all of which face unique barriers to adopting solar. Participants’ projects were required to directly benefit LMI households or nonprofit organizations (including government and community service organizations).Teams across the country developed projects and programs that expand solar access to underserved groups, while proving that their business models can be widely replicated and adopted.

Members of the workgroup, including Appalachian Voices’ Austin Counts (center), on another site assessment with potential solar developers

The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia consists of nonprofit and community action agencies, colleges, state agencies, planning district commissions and other interested citizens and businesses seeking to develop a robust renewable energy industry in the seven coalfield counties of Southwest Virginia. The workgroup was co-convened in 2016 by the UVA-Wise Office of Economic Development & Engagement, People Inc., and Appalachian Voices, with facilitation assistance from Dialogue + Design Associates.

Learn more about the Solar Workgroup at swvasolar.org.

A committed advocate for clean energy policy, education and outreach, Chelsea is our New Economy Program Manager in our Norton, Va., office. When she is not advancing renewable energy, you can likely find her enjoying one of Southwest Virginia's many scenic trails.