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WV Solar Ag CO-OP Helps Farmers Cut Their Power Bills

A nonprofit solar co-op says solar power is now inexpensive enough to make economic sense for West Virginia farmers. (WV SUN)
A nonprofit solar co-op says solar power is now inexpensive enough to make economic sense for West Virginia farmers. (WV SUN)
July 10, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A solar co-op is helping West Virginia farmers cut their energy costs.

The agricultural co-op program, run by West Virginia SUN, helps line up grants and tax credits it says can cut up-front costs of solar installation in half. And, said Autumn Long, co-op coordinator with West Virginia SUN, there are guaranteed loans that can cover the rest.

Long said farms often have high power bills, and the cost of installing solar has fallen so much that it now make senses for many. She pointed to a chicken farmer in the eastern panhandle who got a solar system to heat, cool and ventilate his huge poultry barns.

"So, he had a pretty significant electricity burden," Long said. "And he'll see the initial investment that will certainly pay for itself many times over, over the life of the system."

Solar power had been thought of as an expensive luxury in past decades, but Long said the costs have come down so much that it's now a competitive option.

Long said West Virginia SUN has helped about a half dozen farmers get solar power systems. And rural small businesses can also qualify for the grants and tax breaks.

According to a blog post in Scientific American, the price of solar modules has fallen by more than four-fifths since 2000. Long said it's been an amazing trend to watch.

"Even from like one month to the next in the past couple of years, we've seen the costs of solar plummet drastically," she said.

The group also runs local co-operatives that Long said homeowners can use to get a 20 percent discount on home solar arrays. But she said it's farmers and businesses with high electricity costs who are in a position to see the biggest return from solar.

"If you're paying $1,000 a month in electricity, then even investing in a substantial-size solar system, it's really going to help offset your overall production costs," Long said.

A typical solar array is guaranteed for 25 years, although Long said she knows many owners who have had theirs for 30 years or more.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV