Solar power shining brighter in MOV

PARKERSBURG – In an area historically dominated by oil and natural gas, solar power is making gains in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Chip Pickering and Lance McCoy formed a green energy solutions company last year dedicated to promoting and providing solar power to the Mid-Ohio Valley. Pickering has long been an advocate of green energy solutions, having equipped several of his businesses with solar panels. Solar panels have also been installed on Pickering’s house in Williamstown, the state’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified home.

McCoy also was interested in renewable energy, but didn’t know it would be solar power.

“It was the simplest to get into,” he said.

In 2012, McCoy and Pickering formed Solar Energy Solutions to launch and encourage renewable energy generation and use in the Mid-Ohio Valley. McCoy is the company’s director of communications.

Last year, workers installed 250-watt solar panels on the roof of his office, Integrated Geriatric Care, on Dudley Avenue. In January, the 60 panels capable of producing 15 kilowatts (15,000 watts) of power went online.

The panels are expected to provide about 80 percent of the office’s energy use a year. The returns vary, depending on the weather.

In March, the panels provided 90 percent of the office’s energy.

Without a battery storage system, solar panels only provide power when there is power. In McCoy’s case, the office – like the rest of the area – would have been without power when last summer’s derecho struck and left thousands in the dark for days.

“The solar energy is not a replacement to the power grid,” McCoy said. “It’s a supplement. It offsets the power bill.”

McCoy’s system doesn’t have battery or storage capacity. Excess energy not used is returned to the power grid. The power company, which installed a two-way meter at the office, credits McCoy with the power return.

Those interested in energy produced by the output from the grids can track it on the company’s website, McCoy said the website has an array of information and answers to questions about solar power.

McCoy said interest in solar energy is huge.

He’s done site estimates for close to a half-dozen residents interested in solar panels. West Virginia University at Parkersburg has a technical program that teaches students how to install solar panels.

As part of the site visit, McCoy studies the amount of solar hours a structure receives. McCoy’s office gets 4.27 sun hours per day. He said that’s similar to the sun hours in Germany, which he said has one of the largest renewable energy portfolios in the worlds.

“What stops people is the cost,” he said.

McCoy estimates the costs of his panels was about $60,000. Installation can be done at a cost of about $4-$6 per watt. That is a 20 percent drop from installation costs three years ago, he said.

However, It’s still a far cry from competing with current power rates. McCoy said solar power would need to get down to a about $1 per watt in installation costs to compete with power plants.

McCoy said there is a long-range return to investing in solar power. It’s also a healthier, cleaner alternative for the environment.

To help offset some costs. McCoy said government tax incentives are available, including a 30 percent federal tax credit. Many states also have incentives. West Virginia offers only a $2,000 incentive.

Electrical costs in the state are artificially low, McCoy said citing coal and gas production. Things may not get easier with the continued development of the Marcellus and Utica Shale fields.

McCoy said the costs calculation is a mindset.

“What is the cost of extracting coal from the ground or oil production,” he asked. “Solar energy is free, energy everyday. You think about it in dollars and it won’t make sense.”