The town that bills itself as “The Heart of the Trillion Dollar Coalfield” has a new energy source — the sun.
The JOBS project, a local group dedicated to bringing renewable energy projects in the area, has been working with the city of Williamson to bring solar technology to the city.
A ribbon cutting was held Thursday on the first solar project in the county, panels installed on the offices of Donovan Beckett, a local physician.
The Jobs Project teamed up about a year ago with a solar energy company from the Eastern Panhandle, Mountain View Solar & Wind of Berkeley Springs, to develop a privately funded job-training program. The 12 trainees are earning $45 an hour for three days of work, while some local laborers are earning $10 an hour helping out.
Mike MeKechnie is the owner of Mountain View. He said his company uses not only local people, but buys supplies locally as well.
“We didn’t bring anything with us,” he said. “We are a West Virginia company, we trained local people and bought what we needed right here.”
The 40 15-foot solar panels used for the project cost about $90,000 and will produce 11.7 kilowatts of electricity, or enough to reduce utility costs by about 20 percent. The system should pay for itself in about seven years.
Williamson mayor Darrin McCormick said the cost of coal powered electricity is one of the reasons solar power is important.
“I know many of you, like me, had sticker shock when you received your power bills this winter,” the mayor said. “Alternative energy is a way to offset that expense.”
Mountain View is currently working up presentations for similar solar systems on building owned by the city of Williamson and for the Bank of Mingo.
McCormick explained the city, as well as the state, needs to look beyond coal.
“We are a coal-based economy, we always will be,” McCormick said. “But we still need to look at alternative energy sources.”
Oregon-based Solar World USA supplied the panels for the project. Mountain View uses only panels supplied by Solar World.
“We're impressed with the focused enthusiasm and boldness of Mountain View Solar and Wind, and its partnership with The Jobs Project to spread the economic activity and financial savings of solar, and we want to do whatever we can to support and enhance the effort," Solar World USA spokesman Ben Santarris said.
Santarris spoke at the Williamson Fire Department Thursday, explaining the process that creates electricity from the sun.
“Solar and coal are both mined from the earth, and used for energy,” he explained. The process, known as the photoelectric effect, was the discovery that Albert Einstien received the Nobel Prize for discovering.
“We essentially get electricity from a rock, a silicon rock,” Santarris said. Silicon is used to make the panels, which absorb light from the sun and turns that energy into electricity.
For Mingo County, it is quite a change from getting electricity from a coal-powered plant.
But Eric Mathis, executive director for the JOBS project, says it is an important step
“Let's be blunt. This renewable-energy project isn't significant because of its size,” Mathis said.
“An area that has up to this point summarily rejected all things not coal opens up its arms, eyes and skies to a broader view of energy and its role in it. Plus, the groundwork is laid for hundreds of projects like it. That's what's significant."