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Solar Tour Highlights Potential for West Virginia

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Falling solar-panel prices have made renewable energy increasingly reasonable for businesses such as the Twin Spruce Marina in Morgantown. (Twin Spruce Marina)
Falling solar-panel prices have made renewable energy increasingly reasonable for businesses such as the Twin Spruce Marina in Morgantown. (Twin Spruce Marina)
 By Dan HeymanContact
October 7, 2019

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – This weekend, tours of West Virginia solar sites helped illuminate how sunlight might make more electricity here, and help power the state's economy.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia County, says the National Solar Tour brought about 20 people to see the panels on the roof of his small business.

Hansen, who also is president of environment and economic development for the consulting firm Downstream Strategies, says his company plans to pay off the cost of installation in about 10 years – and after that, expects to get free power "for decades."

Hansen informed visitors they could do the same, although he notes some federal solar tax breaks are set to expire if Congress doesn't act to extend them.

"If you install solar on your rooftop, you could save money over the long term," he told them, "and the longer you wait, the less money you may save."

More than 850 solar-powered homes and businesses around the country, including nearly 80 in West Virginia, opened their doors to the public over the weekend for the solar tour.

West Virginia politics has long been dominated by the coal and natural-gas industries, which may be why there essentially are no large-scale solar arrays in the state. That is unlike the neighboring states, which Hansen says get "thousands of megawatts" from utility scale solar.

But he says he's seeing more recognition from other lawmakers that the state is missing out.

"Jobs are passing us by, and I don't think that's a partisan issue," he observes. "There is a growing consensus that we do need to diversify the economy."

He adds many companies that want to get part or all of their electricity from renewable sources are deciding not to locate here: "They won't come to West Virginia, because if they plug into the grid, they're going to get 92% coal-based electricity, and that's just a non-starter for them."

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