WAYNE, W.Va. — Wayne County Schools is going solar with the help of a West Virginia solar installer and developer.
Solar Holler announced plans last week to implement a record-breaking county-wide Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The plan is for every available building in the county to be solarized under the umbrella of a single PPA.
A total of 10,000 solar panels are expected to deliver as much as 5.33 Megawatts of power to Wayne County Schools annually. It’s estimated that over 25 years, the school system will save nearly $6.5 million in energy costs.
The agreement between Solar Holler and Wayne County Schools is the largest Power Purchase Agreement in West Virginia to date. It’s also the largest single demonstration of solar on public schools anywhere in the Appalachia region.
Dan Conant, Solar Holler founder and CEO, said the company is spread out across the state, but Wayne County has been a great spot for them. He called the project with Wayne County Schools a “dream come true.”
“Some of our staff graduated from Wayne County Schools or have kids who are students there now,” said Conant. “It’s the heart of coal country, where our state’s proud history of energy production is rooted. It’s literally the community that’s helped build our business, so we’re really grateful for the opportunity to shine a light on what solar can do for public institutions and education systems right here in Southern West Virginia.”
West Virginia Legislature made Power Purchase Agreements legal in 2021. A PPA allows for a business or nonprofit organization to assess the benefits of solar without making an investment upfront. Conant said Solar Holler is going to cover the costs upfront for everything involved in the project in Wayne County. As a part of the agreement, Wayne County Schools will purchase the energy generated from the solar panels at a predetermined rate (10 – 20% lower than the rate they pay their utility).
Senator Joe Manchin, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released a statement Wednesday on the new deal between Solar Holler and Wayne County Schools.
“I am excited to see this innovative project in Wayne County,” Manchin said. “This investment in Wayne County is a direct result of the Inflation Reduction Act. This type of investment in rural America to create jobs, make our country more energy secure and lower electric costs is exactly what the IRA was designed to do.”
Solar Holler and Wayne County Schools have collaborated on previous projects. Last winter, the two announced an Apprenticeship Program for qualifying seniors which prepares them for careers in the renewable energy sector. Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in solar technology and electrical work under the guidance and supervision of Solar Holler’s unionized installation crews.
“Not only can we create a pipeline for the skilled electricians that the state needs, but we can use it as a chance to give people a reason to stay at home,” said Conant.
Todd Alexander, Superintendent of Wayne County Schools, weighed in with how this project will have positive impacts on their students.
“Transitioning to solar power resonates beyond economics—it’s a commitment to nurturing our students and community. By redirecting savings towards our schools, we’re investing in educational excellence and a brighter tomorrow for our children and West Virginia as a whole.”
Conant hopes other West Virginia school systems will follow the lead of Wayne County.
“What’s happening in Wayne County is innovative and exciting – and not just because it’s exposing students to the next phase of West Virginia’s energy economy or the importance of sustainability,” he said. “It’s also injecting precious dollars into meaningful tools for educators. We’ve developed a successful model that other schools and nonprofits across the state can follow to build a 21st Century workforce, and give reasons for native West Virginians to stay close to home.”
Solar Holler estimates the first schools to be solarized early next year with the others coming online on a rolling basis over the next 12-18 months. The company projects the entire project to be completed by the end of 2025.