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Power of the Sun: Co-op offers options for solar power seekers in Jefferson County

By Staff | Sep 8, 2017

By harnessing the power of buying in bulk, solar co-ops are on the rise, providing energy-conscious people a more affordable solar solution.

WV Sun, a part of a national non-profit called the Community Power Network (CPN), held an informational meeting at the train station in Shepherdstown last week to introduce the concept of solar co-ops, answer questions and provide education about solar energy. There are no fees to join the co-op and no overarching laws or rules.

Co-op members save money through a competitive bidding process. Once bids are received, a single installation company is selected by co-op members, individual contracts are signed and installation will begin.

A variety of factors are involved to determine whether the homeowner’s roof is a good candidate to receive panels. The direction of sun exposure – a south-facing home is the best-case scenario. Other qualifiers like condition, age and architecture of the roof, and the amount of trees and shade near the house also play a role. Solar can work on most types of roofs, but ground installation is an option.

Solar panels are based on a photovoltaic technology that converts sunlight into energy. The panels collect energy which then flows to an inverter, converting the direct current to an alternating current so that it can be fed into a commercial electrical grid. The inverter also monitors the system and grid to ensure that energy is flowing properly.

Chronicle photo by Vanessa McGuigan Autumn Long, Program Director of WV Sun, gives informational presentation in Shepherdstown last Wednesday.

“On a lovely sunny day, your panels may be producing more power than you are consuming at that moment,” said WV Sun program director Autumn Long. “When that happens, that excess electricity flows back out through your electric meter, spins the meter backwards, flows into your local electric system to help power your neighbor’s home. You’re contributing power to the electric system. Thanks to a policy called ‘net metering,’ your utility company is required by law to credit you for the power that you produce and share with the grid. For every kilowatt your panel produces that flows into the electric grid, you get credit for that on you electric bill.”

Long explained that the panels themselves don’t store power, but a back up battery could be purchased, although they are considerably more expensive.

WV Sun can start a co-op with at least 20-30 members and estimates the whole process to take 4-8 months. For more information, visit www.wvsun.org.

“Solar is a long-term investment,” Long said. “Solar panels come with 25-year production warranties, meaning that they are guaranteed to be producing power for you for 25 years at least.”