Solar Energy Gets a Boost in Appalachia

Webinar scheduled for Nov. 4 will provide information on Appalachian Solar Finance Fund grants for communities impacted by reduced coal production

BECKLEY, W.Va. – Communities impacted by the decline of coal production in Appalachia have been extended a $1.5 million lifeline to help them recover from coal’s decline. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), through its POWER initiative, has awarded the grant to the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund (SFF). According to the SFF website, the project is one of 57 such awards totaling $46.4 million that the ARC has provided for 184 coal-impacted counties.

Autumn Long

SFF Project Manager Autumn Long explains, “The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund is a financial and technical assistance program to help get solar programs off the ground in coal impacted communities in Central Appalachia.”  She continued, “Eligible applicants include nonprofit organizations, public entities and local businesses that serve as community anchors.”

The SFF will be launching with a webinar this Thursday, Nov. 4 at noon. Interested parties can RSVP here to attend the webinar, and learn more at solarfinancefund.org. Long encourages interested parties to attend the webinar and invite others to do so. “I would greatly appreciate help in spreading the word about the SFF and upcoming webinar to your contact network, especially commercial and institutional property owners, community leaders, and solar industry professionals who may be interested in pursuing SFF funding for solar projects.”

For those unable to attend the webinar, it will be recorded and posted online. Long adds that the SFF plans about two webinars a year.

Five organizations – Appalachian Voices, the Central Appalachian Network (CAN), Partner Community Capital (PCAP), Invest Appalachia and New Resource Solutions – are administering the funds. You can learn more about each partner here. Appalachian Voices is the lead agency for administering the funds, says Long, who works with Appalachian Voices. She explains, “Folks from each of those entities sit on our executive committee and participate in the applicant reviews. Together we facilitate and make a collective decision about which projects will get support through this fund.”

For Long, this endeavor is not work. It’s her passion. She shares, “For me, renewable energy is a personal passion of mine as well as my career focus. That relates back to my experience as a West Virginian. It has powered this country with coal and gas in my generation and the generations before. I’ve seen the impact on our communities, health, well-being, land and economy. As our energy system evolves to be one based on renewable energy resources rather than non-renewable fossil fuel extraction, for me, it’s important to be a part of the helping our communities in Central Appalachia to go solar.”

While passionate about the environmental benefits of switching to solar, she also points to the economic benefits of doing so. “First of all, solar will save you money on electricity costs over the course of its lifetime, which is a matter of decades. Secondly, it is a great job creator. It will provide new local jobs, business development and creation and grow your tax base. It’s a massive growth industry that will continue to expand in the coming years and decades. It is a great way to support local economic diversification in central Appalachia.”

Long points out that “Projects need to be investment ready. Those are entities that are already going through the process of going solar, having gotten a contractor, a quote and know what it will cost.” Interested institutions not that far along in planning can still receive advise and assistance from Long, but will not be eligible for grants immediately.

The focus of the SFF will help ensure that it is an effective use of resources, shares Long. “This fund is based on specific products to be installed in real places in real communities. There are projects that would otherwise not happen if we didn’t give the boost through these funds. We are boosting the demand for solar. There has been a chicken/egg problem. If you are a university trying to train people in solar, and there are not enough jobs, that is not a sustainable pipeline. We are really focusing on solar projects that will help local companies and will have jobs in the pipeline.”

Focusing on a community’s anchor institutions is critical to that strategy, states Long. “We want this limited pool of funding to have the greatest impact possible.” She explains it’s not just about reducing an environmental footprint or even expanding job opportunities. The SFF will also help the institutions fulfill their missions. “We are helping institutions go solar so they are able to expand and complete their missions and benefit from cost savings so that their money can go to their missions and creating more jobs.” A list of sample institutions can be found here, and other criteria can be found here. A list of eligible counties can be found here. Long says those counties are selected based on ARC criteria.

Long encourages folks in eligible communities to contact her. “This is an opportunity to get funding support for solar projects in your community. If you know of local civic leaders, nonprofits, a school, a library, a fire and rescue station, a housing development – any institutions that are important to your community – this is an opportunity to get direct support and make those projects happen.” To reach Long, send an email to autumn.long@appvoices.org.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2021. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of Grassroots Appalachia.



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