HUNTINGTON — Jacob Hannah says it’s only fitting that a nonprofit that is training former coal miners to transition to renewable energy jobs will have its building powered by the sun.
Hannah, conservation coordinator at Coalfield Development, gathered with workers, city officials and others Wednesday at West Edge, the old Corbin factory, for a “Flip the Switch” celebration of the solar array installed on the saw-tooth roof of the building.
“We believed that if any place deserved a pivotal investment in the next wave of energy, it would be the region and people that have historically powered the world, and now today we are doing just that,” Hannah said.
A 294-solar panel project at Coalfield Development’s West Edge factory in the Westmoreland area of Huntington is the largest for a nonprofit organization in West Virginia.
“The end results speak for themselves,” Hannah said. “The array will produce enough power to offset the usage of all the operations within West Edge and save Coalfield Development over $135,000.”
West Edge focuses on workforce redevelopment, social enterprise incubation and many other opportunities, according to Hannah. There are several enterprises at West Edge, and one of them, Solar Holler, did the solar panel installation.
“Our mission from the very start was to make solar affordable, accessible and achievable for everyone in West Virginia,” said Dan Conant, founder and CEO of Solar Holler. “Through our solar financing, we’re helping homes, businesses, churches, homeless shelters and other community nonprofits switch to solar and lower their energy costs in year one of the project.”
Conant said he was proud of the work done by the installation team. Dozens of Solar Holler and Coalfield Development employees attended the ceremony.
“Solar projects aren’t typically done on a saw-tooth roof because it takes specialized engineering and specialized mounting equipment,” he said. “They are very hard, but this team is amazing and got the job done.”
The project included job training components in support of the continued development of the solar workforce in central Appalachia. Alongside the West Edge installation, Coalfield Development incorporated a Level 100 certificated course for a class of 15 local trainees to learn the foundations of different renewable energy technologies.
“The growth of solar is creating new opportunities for our electricians and showing young folks here in the Huntington area that there are good jobs right here at home,” said Greg Spears, the assistant business manager at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 317. “We’re hopeful Congress passes an infrastructure package that’s good for solar and really jumpstarts the industry here in Appalachia. We’d love to see more projects, like West Edge, keeping electricians busy and delivering all kinds of benefits to our community.”
Hannah said the total cost of the project is $184,000. It will generate 122.2 kilowatts of power with 150,500 kilowatt hours in annual production.
He said a grant from the Honnold Foundation helped fund the project. The remaining cost was financed through Solar Holler’s nonprofit program.
“This is the first-of-its-kind financing program for nonprofits in West Virginia,” Conant explained. “Solar Holler builds, finances and maintains the array of solar panels for the next 25 years, and Coalfield Development is locked in with a fixed-month solar service payment through 2046.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said mapping technologies done by Solar Holler shows the potential for hundreds of similar rooftop projects with the city alone.
“There could be over 350,000 solar panels installed just in Huntington,” Williams said. “I’m excited to see more and more local businesses take advantage of solar and the savings it can deliver. What this West Edge project shows is that we can help local businesses free up thousands — even tens of thousands of dollars — to invest in and strengthen their businesses.”
Williams also said he is recommending that Huntington City Council give $1 million for the black box theater within West Edge and other environmentally friendly economic development activities. The money would come from the city’s $40 million in federal rescue plan funding.