The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia formed a partnership with Secure Futures to bring commercial-scale solar installations to the coalfield region that are specifically designed to employ local workers. The initiative, “Securing Solar For Southwest Virginia,” will provide affordable solar solutions for businesses, nonprofits and local governments in the seven-county region, while building local workforce skills and opportunities for well-paying jobs in the growing solar energy sector.
“Secure Futures brings innovative solutions for solar customers and a track record of excellent customer service to the partnership,” said Chelsea Barnes, new economy program manager for Appalachian Voices, a co-convener of the workgroup. “We are excited to work with a team so dedicated to ensuring that the economic benefits of the solar industry come to Southwest Virginia.”
The announcement comes at a critical time in Southwest Virginia, which was already economically stressed from the coal industry’s decline prior to the current COVID-19-driven recession. Additionally, Wednesday is the first day of the annual Southwest Virginia Economic Forum, where the idea for the Solar Workgroup began in 2015.
Since then, the workgroup has boosted enthusiasm for solar energy in the historic coalfield region and laid the groundwork to grow solar development through public outreach, research, training and policy. Last year, eight Southwest Virginia communities achieved national recognition through SolSmart designation for their initiatives to encourage growth of the local solar market.
The new solar partnership — an alliance of nonprofit, state government, educational and private sector entities that is unique to the Central Appalachia region — will push these efforts forward. The partners are working to achieve goals over the next three years, including the construction of 10 MW of solar in the coalfield region by the end of 2023 and the creation of 15 new full-time jobs in solar construction, sales and marketing, entrepreneurship and small business development.
“We applaud the Solar Workgroup for seeking to bring solar jobs into the region, offering well-paying jobs in a rapidly growing industry that falls into the category of essential services in today’s pandemic environment,” said Tony Smith, CEO of Secure Futures, based in Staunton. “In order to help ensure that these jobs come to Southwest Virginia, we need to work collaboratively with the incumbent electric utilities — including APCo, Old Dominion Power and Powell Valley Electric Cooperative — to apply the standards and expectations of the 2019 Electric Co-op Net Metering legislation and the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act. Key to our work will be solar Power Purchase Agreements and net metering solutions for commercial-scale customers.”
Secure Futures will provide start-up funds for Lonesome Pine Solar and hire a Southwest-Virginia-based project coordinator. Additionally, Secure Futures is awarding a $50,000 grant to Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) to fund solar installation apprenticeships and faculty mentoring. Lonesome Pine Solar will employ graduates of the college’s programs and provide the installation services for the partnership’s projects.
“Mountain Empire Community College is excited about the partnership and opportunity to bring more solar installation projects to our service region,” said Kristen Westover, president of MECC. “The partnership will provide MECC’s Energy Technology program students and graduates with incredible new hands-on opportunities in solar installation.”
Securing Solar For Southwest Virginia builds on the established partnership between Secure Futures and Lonesome Pine Solar, LLC, headquartered in Big Stone Gap.
“This partnership directly contributes to our Clean Energy Virginia efforts. While we continue to advance the renewable energy portfolio to meet the goals outlined in the Virginia Clean Economy Act, organizations like the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia play a vital role in fostering these opportunities,” said John Warren, director of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. “DMME is glad to be a part of this group to also identify workforce development needs and help to create new jobs in the clean energy marketplace.”
Nonprofits, businesses and local governments interested in installing solar sign up for an initial consultation, register for an interested building owner webinar on September 30, and find more information at swvasolar.org/securing-solar. Individuals interested in potential training opportunities with Mountain Empire Community College and Lonesome Pine Solar can sign up for future announcements at the same link.
News item from Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia