Here Comes the Sun

Autumn Long of Solar United Neighbors educating and advocating for solar energy across West Virginia and beyond

Autumn Long

SWEET SPRINGS, W.Va. — Several years ago, Autumn Long and her husband Dan Harrington went solar at their home in Harrison County, W.Va.

They’ve never looked back. In fact, all that Long has done is look forward, seemingly humming “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles everywhere she goes. She advocates and educates about solar energy, its benefits and the political obstacles facing those wishing to switch to it.

Long will be speaking at the Sweet Springs Sustainable Living Forum set for Aug. 16-18 here.

As a Regional Field Director for Solar United Neighbors, Long oversees the organization’s on-the-ground programs in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. She acts as State Director for the West Virginia program. Autumn works to grow support for and access to solar by providing education on the benefits of solar, advocating for solar-friendly laws and policies, and implementing solar programs and initiatives across the region. Born and raised in West Virginia, Long has been an entrepreneur, community organizer, advocate, writer, editor, and researcher. She holds a NABCEP Photovoltaic Associate Credential, a Master of Arts in Geography from West Virginia University, and Bachelor of Philosophy in Anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh.

As important as those bona fides are for her to succeed in her work, her enthusiasm for switching to solar energy is as contagious and convincing as are her credentials.

She shared, “We really are a grassroots nonprofit because we work with local folks to form solar co-ops to help people go solar together with our help.” She explained that the organization has been active in West Virginia since 2014. During that time, Long shared, “We’ve developed over 20 co-ops and helped 130 individuals transition to solar. As a result, we are helping solar companies by creating a demand. That’s been a very gratifying part of my work. As we bring a diversified energy portfolio to West Virginia, we are creating jobs.”

This church in Shepherdstown added solar panels in 2015. Photo courtesy of Solar Holler

The public also has misconceptions about the cost and complexity of switching to solar, said Long. “Education is so important. It’s seen as not affordable, as a difficult thing to do. That’s not true. It’s an excellent long-term investment. Something I spend a lot of time doing is teaching about how to do it and save money.”

She acknowledges, however, that the energy companies oppose her efforts. “Historically, the power companies have had a power monopoly. They make money off the status quo. They don’t want people to have their own power. Utilities are our opponents everywhere.” She singled out First Energy and AEP in West Virginia.

So, she advocates for average citizens. “We advocate for major policies that allow solar and to help people save on their electric bill. We teach about some policies the state could adopt to make solar more affordable.”

When speaking at the Sustainable Living Forum, Long said she will share this information with those at the gathering, confident that people will be excited. “We are on a very impressive trajectory. It’s an exciting field. As more people in West Virginia learn about it, they will want to find a way to get involved.” She concluded, “People are interested in learning more. Once people understand how solar works, and how it saves money, it’s not a hard sale.”

The solar panels that power the home of Autumn Long and Dan Harrington as seen from the home’s deck.

Learn More

The Sustainable Living Forum is open to the public and free of charge. Primitive camping at the venue is free.  Food vendors will be providing breakfast, lunch and dinner options at reasonable prices. Additional attractions include craft vendors, historical stations and hands-on demonstrations.

For additional information about the Sustainable Living Forum program or about the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation, call 304-536-1207, check the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation Facebook page or the Events page of the Appalachian Chronicle. To get there by GPS: 19540 Sweet Springs Valley Road, Gap Mills, WV 24941.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2019

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