Ripley community turning to solar energy for cleaner power options

Laura Peters
Jackson Newspapers
A 12.7kW solar canopy by Advancing Solar Solutions out of Ripley.

RIPLEY — Taylor Mills felt so strongly about solar energy he started his own firm last year. Mills of Ripley originally started looking at solar energy as a safe way to provide energy for himself and his family.

"The biggest part probably is the financial aspect and the environmental aspect," he said on why he dove into solar energy. "I don't want to say that I'm a health nut, but it concerns me. I've had multiple family members actually pass from cancer and many times the doctors say it's not exactly the way they live their lives but it's more or less where they lived."

Because Mills and his family live in the Mid-Ohio Valley, which can sometimes get the name of "chemical valley" due to chemical plants and power plants, environmental health is on his mind. His two motivations for getting into solar were the financial aspects and the environmental aspects, including overall health.

Starting his company Advancing Solar Solutions in November 2020 with his business partner Chris Batton, they have now had about 43 kilowatt hours installed. 

“To this date, we actually have our first project, it's gonna be under wraps here and about done in about a month,” Mills said. “It's a 12.8 kilowatt system so we'll be adding that to our portfolio, and then I have a 16.8 kilowatt project that we just got started on. We just submitted the paperwork to the Mon Power utility and that project will probably be done within a couple months.”

According to Mills, there’s some red tape to cut through in getting these solar projects up and going. You first need to contact the power company — he primarily deals with Mon Power and Appalachian Power — that serves that specific customer in order to get approval, which usually takes about a month. The entire process, from start to finish, equals out to about three months.

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Mills said he has four active projects and his game plan with these projects are to source the solar panels first.

"The actual market for the solar panels can be pretty volatile," he said. "So I like to get ahead of the game and actually line up the solar panels like well in advance."

Mills is also involved with Solar United Neighbors (SUN), which is a nonprofit that helps people go solar and fight for their energy rights.

Right now, the biggest related battle West Virginians are tackling is the right to power purchase agreements, or PPAs, that are used in financing solar projects. The agreement is a contract between a third-party developer to install, own and operate a solar array on a customer’s property, according to SUN. The customer then agrees to purchase the electricity that’s produced from those panels at a fixed rate, which is normally lower than what a customer pays a local utility company, SUN said. 

PPAs are legal in a number of states including surrounding states Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The agreements are also important because they allow tax-exempt institutions to use federal solar tax credit. The system’s owner benefits from the tax credit and can pass those savings along to the customer through a PPA.

But there is currently a tax credit associated with solar — the Income Tax Credit for homeowners and the Investment Tax Credit for businesses — which allows people to receive a credit for 26% of the cost of their solar installation, according to Jessica Edgerly Walsh, director of marketing for Solar Holler out of Huntington. 

Walsh is seeing a majority of customers looking to solar for the financial savings. 

"Ripley is Appalachian Power territory and with the rates increasing in the last few years, solar has become a less expensive option for residents and businesses," she said. "So many folks have electric heat and have a huge electric bill."

Essentially, with Solar Hollar's financing, customers are swapping a monthly utility payment for a monthly solar bill, Walsh said.

In the past 18 months seven homes that have gone solar town of Ripley.

Frank Crum of Ripley installed his own solar panels five years ago, but recently had Solar Holler install more last fall.

"At first, we were wanting to have a backup system when we lost the power," he said. 

That's why he put up the smaller system.

The larger system is for saving money and supporting solar power generation, he said. The system that was most recently installed is enough to power his whole house — 22 panels with 7.15 kilowatts.

When the power does go out, his larger system can't be used as a backup for power, he said. But, according to Walsh, Solar Holler does have a back-up battery that customers can purchase so they can store extra solar energy.

"Recently we've got more calls for back-up power with batteries so you have solar power banked for your own use," she said. "There's a piece of mind that you can generate your own power."

Also, in West Virginia, if you produce more energy you're credited for it. 

"Now I produce more than I use, so I'm credited for it," he said. 

But since it's only been five years with his own personal solar energy system and just recently with the newer set-up, he hasn't seen a big return — except he knows it's coming. 

He's invested about $21,000 in the new system and said in about 15 to 20 years it will have paid for itself. He also received an over $5,000 tax credit for the panels.

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By the numbers

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, West Virginia has seen a total of 11.2 megawatts of solar installed — 1.72 megawatts in 2020 alone. 

There are 18 solar companies operating in the state and a total of 340 solar jobs, the data said. But, the state ranks last in the country when it comes to solar energy. 

Here's a rundown from the Solar Energy Industries Association:

  • Enough Solar Installed to Power — 1,017 homes
  • Percentage of State's Electricity from Solar — 0.03%
  • Total solar investment in state — $35 million
  • Prices have fallen — 45% over the last 5 years
  • Growth Projection and Ranking — 277 megawatts over the next 5 years 
  • Number Of Installations — 410

West Virginia is still relying heavily on coal, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

West Virginia was the second-largest coal producer in the nation in 2019, after Wyoming, and accounted for 13% of U.S. total coal production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than one-third of the more than 93 million tons of coal mined in West Virginia was exported to foreign markets, the data said.

  • Coal-fired electric power plants accounted for 91% of West Virginia's electricity net generation in 2019.
  • Renewable energy resources, like hydroelectric power and wind energy, contributed almost 6% of West Virginia's electricity net generation in 2019.
  • Natural gas provided more than 3% of West Virginia's electricity net generation in 2019.

West Virginia was sixth in the nation in natural gas marketed production in 2019 with nearly 2.2 trillion cubic feet, the data said.

West Virginia's crude oil production in 2019 accounts for less than 0.5% of the nation's total, the state's output is more than six times greater than it was in 2012 because of production from the Marcellus Shale, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

For more information on Advancing Solar Solution visit their Facebook page. For more information on Solar Holler visit SolarHoller.com. More information regarding solar can be found at solarunitedneighbors.org.

You can reach reporter Laura Peters (she/her) at lpeters@newsleader.com. Follow her @peterslaura.