An unlikely partnership between a minister and a Czech-born local inventor has created a non-profit organization called New Vision Renewable Energy which is helping residents in Philippi, West Virginia, a community where 20% of the residents have incomes below the poverty line, install homemade solar panels on their homes.
One home can cost between $7,000 to $10,000 to outfit, with trees to clear and supplies to buy. Families pay for the panels with some of the savings they start to see on their electric bills each month. The money goes into a general community fund that finances more solar panels on more homes.
In addition to those upfront expenses, outfitting a home also takes manpower; Mr. Seaman calls it Philippi’s version of Amish barn building.
To pay back their neighbors for their time, families must volunteer by either installing solar panels somewhere else or putting in community time at the church.
New Vision has also worked with West Virginia University (WVU) students in Chris Haddox’s Design for Energy Efficiency course to perform energy audits in homes.
“Homeowners are becoming empowered knowing that renewable energy is affordable and often includes common-sense solutions,” said Pamela O’Brien, New Vision’s director of operations.
This is happening in West Virginia coal country where energy conservation is still viewed by state and local officials (and some residents) with suspicion; some even consider it “unpatriotic.” But some of the people who have seen their utility bills triple have changed their minds on the subject.