A school district in coal-producing West Virginia is transitioning to solar energy. The initiative is the result of an agreement between Wayne County Schools and regional solar company Solar Holler.

As a result of the deal, Wayne County will soon be home to the largest-ever demonstration of renewable electricity in Appalachian public schools.

Outgoing West Virginia senator Joe Manchin credits the development to the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The bipartisan legislation includes tax code amendments that provide incentives for clean energy projects in coal communities.

Wayne County’s undertaking is the largest power purchase agreement ever established in West Virginia. According to PBS, the deal is projected to save the school system $6.5 million over its 25-year duration. This will be enough money to support the salaries of three additional teachers throughout their careers.

In 2021, the state legislature (which has a Republican majority) passed a law that facilitates the adoption of solar energy. The legislation legalized power purchase agreements. Power purchase agreements enable entities like Wayne County Schools to procure energy from Solar Holler-owned systems without upfront capital investment.

At present, the schools are powered by American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest electric utilities in the United States.

As of 2022, coal represented 41% of the company’s power generation. Meanwhile, renewables like hydroelectricity, wind power, and solar energy accounted for 23%. In 2005, coal accounted for 70% of AEP’s power generation, while renewables made up only 4%.

The Wayne County project aims to install up to 10,000 solar panels, delivering up to 5.33 megawatts of power to local schools annually. Solar Holler estimates that the first schools will be solarized by early 2024, with the remaining schools joining over the following 12 to 18 months.

The Wayne County solar transition could inspire the state legislature to support similar initiatives statewide.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, the state House of Representatives passed a bill in late June to create a Solar for Schools grant program. The bill would provide funding for solar installations in K-12 public schools, community colleges, and career technical schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike have praised the bill for how it cuts utility bills while lowering local taxes.

Image Source: Newcastle Herald