Chelsea Barnes, New Economy Program Manager
Cat McCue, Communications Director
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office has recognized the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia in a national competition that supports community groups for innovative solar programs and their 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.
“Communities in Southwest Virginia face a significant energy burden, with electricity costs sometimes reaching as much as 12% of families’ monthly bills. Solar projects can help reduce electricity bills for our local governments, residents, and businesses, while also creating jobs,” said Chelsea Barnes, New Economy Program Manager for Appalachian Voices, which is a co-convener of the workgroup.
The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia comprises 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.
The workgroup was awarded the “Solar Discovery” prize for its work in identifying “ambassador” projects, expanding workforce development, education, and outreach, and creating solar champions in the region. Through its commercial-scale group purchase programs, the workgroup plans to begin construction of 3 megawatts of solar by the end of 2019 on a variety of facilities throughout Southwest Virginia.
“Our vision is to drive regional economic activity and growth via the development of a robust solar industry in Southwest Virginia,” said Mark Moormans, Strategic Projects Manager with People, Inc., a co-convener of the workgroup and participant in the group purchase program. “The workgroup also endeavors to make solar accessible to everyone, including extending those benefits to disadvantaged communities here.”
The DOE solar 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 low- and moderate-income households or nonprofit organizations,including government and community service organizations.