Fourth annual W.Va. Solar Congress coming to Charleston

  • By Clint Thomas Metro staff
  • Apr 11, 2019

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The fourth annual West Virginia Solar Congress will meet from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center in downtown Charleston.

The West Virginia Solar Congress is a free, public conference designed for solar energy supporters from around the Mountain State to learn and share information. Along with a series of presentations and policy topics regarding solar technology, the event will conclude with a participatory open forum for all attendees to discuss priorities and opportunities in West Virginia.

The Solar Congress agenda includes:

9:30-10 a.m.: Registration. Breakfast will be provided.

10-10:20 a.m.: Opening remarks by Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia Program Director Autumn Long.

10:30-11:20 a.m.: The first session of breakout presentations, which includes:

• Option 1: Introduction to Solar PV

Participants will be told about the basics of solar PV technology and ways to reduce their energy costs by going solar. They will also have an opportunity to join the Charleston-Huntington Solar Co-op and become a member of Solar United Neighbors. Long will oversee this program.

“Our solar co-ops are essentially local buying clubs that folks can join to go solar together with our assistance and guidance,” Long explained last week. “As a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people go solar, join together and fight for their energy rights, our co-ops are free to join, with no obligation to go solar.”

Long said the Charleston-Huntington Solar Co-op will be open to residents and businesses throughout the Kanawha Valley and Metro Valley region.

“We provide a series of free public education opportunities throughout the co-op area,” she said, “and once at least two dozen people have joined the group, we solicit bids from local solar installers to service the co-op. Co-op members select a single installer to service everyone in the group, so everyone receives the same competitive pricing and high-quality equipment options. We are there every step of the way to serve as a consumer advocate and help our co-op members navigate the entire process of going solar.”

• Option 2: Capturing the Solar Dollar: Sustainable economic development opportunities in West Virginia from investments in solar.

From locally owned business and employment opportunities to large-scale corporate investment in the state, participants will learn about the economic development opportunities solar can provide for West Virginians. Joey James of Downstream Strategies and Hannah Vargason of Natural Capital Investment Fund will be the session leaders.

11:30 a.m.-12:20 p.m.: The second session of breakout presentations, which includes:

• Option 1: Electric Vehicles and Driving on Sunshine: Turning light into light speed

Electric cars and solar-powered homes have arrived in West Virginia. West Virginia Electric Auto Association President Marty Weirick will lead this program, joined by Robert Fernatt, a solar homeowner, electric-vehicle driver and advisory board member of the Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia, will discuss the technologies.

• Option 2: Solar Policy Priorities for West Virginia

James Van Nostrand, director of the West Virginia University College of Law Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, will conduct this program. He will discuss pro-solar policies from around the nation that could be beneficial in West Virginia, including the West Virginians for Energy Freedom campaign to legalize power purchase agreements for on-site, renewable energy-generation facilities in the state. Long will also take part in the program.

12:30-1:20 p.m.: Lunch and informal networking. During this time, a solar trivia game will be played and electric vehicles will be on display outside the Coliseum and Convention Center’s main entrance.

1:30-2:20 p.m.: The third session of breakout presentations will get underway, including:

• Option 1: Energy Efficiency for the Home and Business

Energy efficiency in conjunction with renewable energy generation will compound savings, can minimize upfront system costs and will improve the comfort of the home. In this presentation, Xavier Walter, co-director of Energy Efficient West Virginia, will explain how energy efficiency bridges the gap between energy production and consumption while ensuring adequate indoor air quality and reduced reliance on the power grid.

• Option 2: Solar + Storage

Residential and commercial energy storage systems are becoming more common and affordable. Participants will learn how battery storage works and how it interacts with the energy produced from solar. Long will conduct this program.

2:30-3 p.m.: Solar owner panel discussion

Local solar owners will share their experiences of going solar at their homes. Speakers will include Paul Hayes of Marmet, Robin Blakeman of Huntington, Robert Fernatt of Falling Waters and Steve Wellons of Charleston.

Hayes said he became involved with the Solar United Neighbors co-op in Kanawha County because, “I wanted to be able to predict my costs for my energy use and that was one way to do. If I have solar, a certain percentage of my bill will be taken care of because of the power I get from the sun.”

Hayes said the installation of 36 solar panels on the hillside behind his Marmet home was completed three-and-a-half years ago.

“When they built my project, I said I didn’t want a power bill.”

He said his panels provide approximately 70 percent of his overall energy use. “The reason for that is twofold,” he said. “When you get solar panels, they told me, you often pay more attention to how much energy you’re using and you’re able to decrease the amount, because you’re more mindful of what you’re using. Secondly, if you have it for 100 percent of your energy, that increases the price significantly.”

Hayes said he has witnessed a surge in solar as a more common energy source in the Mountain State. “I see a lot more solar in West Virginia than in some states in the West even,” he said. “A lot of people are curious about it, and some people have made the step towards it. I just encourage people to understand when the price of their energy goes up, my prices are not increasing.”

3-3:30 p.m.: Open forum, facilitated by Long.

4:30-6 p.m.: Post-Congress Happy Hour.

To RSVP for the Solar Congress or read more about the gathering and the organization, visit