With soaring electric bills like that one might expect solar panels to be more popular in the area. But there is no state tax credit for commercial solar installations and the credit for residential solar maxes out at $2,000, said Aaron Sutch, the energy program manager for the Appalachia Program at The Mountain Institute.
“Our task is to empower mountain communities to address challenges in ways that are sustainable and in keeping with the local culture,” Sutch said.
With that in mind, the Mountain Institute raised the money to donate a 3.2-kilowatt solar array to the new Farmers Market Pavilion in downtown Morgantown. It’s the first solar-powered farmers market in the region, Suth said.
On weekends, the solar array will provide clean energy and shade to market vendors. Farmers sell their goods at the market every Saturday during the summer and occasionally in the winter as well.
“The market is grid-connected,” Sutch said. “But is a vendor has a little refrigerator plugged in or something, they can take comfort in the fact that the energy is coming from the sun.”
During the rest of the week when the farmers market isn’t bustling under the array, it will provide covered parking and an electric vehicle charging station.
In addition to providing energy for the farmers market and an electric vehicle charging station, the array is a demonstration project, Sutch said.
“When we were raising money for this project, one of the first questions that came up was, ‘does solar work in West Virginia?’” Sutch said. “There’s a lot of misconception out there. People don’t realize that the world leader in solar development – Germany – has the solar resources of Alaska.”
While a solid project in its own right, Sutch said he hopes it will inspire people to look at solar in a different way and consider it more seriously as an energy source.
“It’s definitely meant to be the first step in what we hope is an expansion of solar,” Sutch said.