In a first, rooftop solar is installed on West Virginia public schools – why that’s a big deal

Calhoun County Public Schools in West Virginia is going to install rooftop solar at two public schools – a state first.

The first solar on West Virginia public schools

Calhoun County schools will also be the first in West Virginia to install solar power onsite at no upfront cost through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). A PPA is a contract between a solar developer and a customer – in this case, Calhoun County Public Schools and Secure Solar Futures – to purchase the electricity generated by its solar array. This rate is typically lower than what the customer pays to their utility for electricity. West Virginia passed a law to enable solar power purchase agreements in April 2021.

Calhoun, with a population of under 7,000, serves as the trade and industry center for oil and gas operations along the Little Kanawha River.

 Kelli Whytsell, superintendent of Calhoun County Schools, said in a statement:

Calhoun County Schools is excited to be the first public school system in the state of West Virginia to install solar panels on their school roofs.

We will be partnering with Secure Solar [Futures] to be able to produce electricity that our schools will be using in the near future. We hope that being the first public school system to install the solar panels on our roofs will encourage other school systems to follow suit.

Calhoun County Schools selected Secure Solar Futures as their solar provider in a competitive public procurement process through a Request for Proposals issued in the fall of 2022.

A solar array of 596.6 kilowatts (kW) will be installed on the roof at Calhoun Middle/High School in Mt. Zion, and a second array of 172 kW will be put on the roof at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Grantsville. The combined capacity of 768.6 kW is projected to save the school district nearly $740,000 in energy costs over the next 25 years.

Combined, the systems will use 1,671 Tier 1 460-Watt monocrystalline solar modules manufactured by solar PV module maker Heliene in Minnesota. Installation will begin this spring and is expected to finish by the end of 2023.

Electrek’s Take

This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s actually really significant for West Virginia. Here’s why.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that as of third quarter 2022, there were just 24 MW of solar installed in the state of West Virginia. Its state ranking for solar installed is 48th – and it actually fell from 45th in 2021.

The percentage of West Virginia’s electricity from solar? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

It’s growth projection is 671 MW over the next five years, bringing it to 42nd. So while enough solar to power the equivalent of 78 homes seems like a drop in the bucket compared to solar powerhouses like Texas and California, it’s a small step forward for the second-largest producer of coal in the US.

And even better, Secure Solar is also providing a state-compliant K-12 learning curriculum that includes teacher training, lesson plans, and hands-on kits for science experiments on energy. Teach ’em early.

Read more: A former West Virginia coal ash landfill is going to be replaced by a solar farm

Photo: Calhoun County Public Schools

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