It’s time for West Virginia to focus on how to grow our economy and
encourage entrepreneurship with free markets, sensible regulations and fair
competition. Renewable energy stands to benefit from such policy changes.
Distributed renewable energy resources like solar, wind, hydropower,
geothermal and biomass offer increasingly affordable alternatives to the
outdated model of centralized utility monopolies. More West Virginia families,
businesses, communities and institutions could benefit from these affordable
energy options — if our elected officials create a policy environment that
encourages choice, competition and diversification within our evolving energy
Such a policy environment will benefit our state’s economy by attracting
large employers and investments, encouraging entrepreneurship, expanding our
state and local tax bases and creating good new jobs in rapidly growing
economic sectors. We know this to be true because we have worked together to
grow southern West Virginia’s first ever solar installation company: Solar
Holler. Our mission is to make solar the most affordable choice for our
neighbors across Appalachia. Since 2013, Solar Holler has created 30 new
full-time jobs and attracted millions of dollars in new investment to our state.
Renewable energy is a growing market with real job creation. Now, our state’s
regulations and bureaucratic barriers need to catch up with innovations driven
by private markets so the renewable energy industry can realize its full
Removing barriers to renewable energy developments is important for
consumers, too. Electricity rate hikes are a growing concern for West
Virginia’s businesses, families and communities. Once among the lowest in the
country, Appalachia’s electricity rates have increased at a faster rate than
any other region in the nation over the past 10 years. At the same time, our
energy system is undergoing rapid changes thanks to breathtaking technological
breakthroughs and competitive market forces.
Allowing third-party financing for renewable and alternative energy
resources is one tangible step our elected officials can take to make West
Virginia a more competitive and attractive place to live and do business.
Third-party financing models such as power purchase agreements are common and
powerful ways to finance renewable energy projects. This type of contract
allows a private developer to install, own and operate a distributed energy
system on a host customer’s property. The customer purchases the system’s
electric output to get reliable power while protecting themselves from the
ever-increasing prices utilities charge.
Legal in at least 26 states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and
Ohio, power purchase agreements are widely used by commercial businesses and
tax-exempt institutions such as schools, churches and municipalities. Crucially
for nonprofits and local governments, power purchase agreements allow a
tax-paying private developer to use the 30 percent federal energy investment
tax credit and pass along those savings to the customer in the form of lowered
Yet, when Solar Holler attempted to do the first power purchase agreement in
our state — with our congregation at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church — we
were shut down by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, which argued
that only the incumbent utilities should be allowed to sell power to the
church, or anywhere in their service territories. It was a blatant stifling of
competition. If we want to maintain our legacy of powering America, we need
free and fair competition.
Legalizing third-party financing for distributed energy resources will help
consumers protect themselves against future rate hikes. It will create good new
local jobs, encourage entrepreneurship and investment, and send a clear signal
to large employers and investors that West Virginia is an amazing place to live
and build a business. That’s why we joined West Virginians for Energy Freedom,
a coalition of our neighbors, organizations in our community, local businesses
and officials who believe West Virginians should have the right to take control
of where our energy comes from. Visit wv4ef.org
to find out more and join the fight for energy freedom in West Virginia.
Dan Conant is founder and CEO of Solar Holler. Brandon Dennison is founder
and CEO of Coalfield Development.