Central Appalachia Celebrates Eight SolSmart Designees

Southwest Virginia is open for solar business! Eight communities in this region have achieved SolSmart designation for encouraging the growth of local solar energy markets, at a time when several major solar installations on schools, businesses, and community centers are poised to begin across the region.

At an event today in St. Paul, Virginia, these communities were each awarded a SolSmart designation for taking local action to reduce the time and expense required to install solar energy systems. Among these communities, Wise County achieved SolSmart Silver designation, while the following others achieved SolSmart Bronze designation: Dickenson County, Lee County, City of Norton, Russell County, Scott County, Town of St. Paul, and Tazewell County.

These communities received in-depth technical assistance from SolSmart Advisor Gary Hearl, President and Managing Member of Elevation Energy & Communications LLC. SolSmart Advisors work intensively with communities to help them meet solar energy development goals.

“What it comes down to in so many cases is saving money,” Hearl said at the event. He noted that solar projects will be an economic development opportunity for the region. For example, it’s beneficial for data centers in Southwest Virginia whose clients and customers are interested in sustainable energy.

Already, at least seven large-scale solar projects in Southwest Virginia, totaling more than four megawatts, are expected to begin construction by the end of the year – including at Ridgeview High School in Clintwood, Central High School in Wise County, and the Lonesome Pine Technology Park in Wise County, among other locations. The SolSmart designation will help facilitate additional solar projects in these communities at the residential, commercial, and utility-scale levels.

“The development of solar projects is key to my ‘all of the above’ approach to energy, and has the potential to generate new jobs and foster economic growth in an environmentally-friendly way,” Virginia Senator Mark Warner said in a statement. “I congratulate these eight counties and towns from Southwest Virginia for striving to bring down the barriers that often put solar energy out of reach. I also want to thank SolSmart for helping these applicants achieve the high standards set out by the Department of Energy. Going forward, I hope that other localities across Virginia will look to these applicants and make it easier for communities across the Commonwealth to go solar.”

In the future, the SolSmart program will continue to provide no-cost assistance to help these communities develop solar energy markets, with the opportunity to advance to the SolSmart Silver or Gold levels. Technical assistance from SolSmart will help facilitate additional large-scale solar energy growth in the region, including the development of solar projects on former coalfields.

In addition, new funding from GO Virginia Region One will support a Solar Jobs, Manufacturing and Utility-Scale Investment Playbook for Southwest Virginia, which will identify pathways for large-scale investment and job growth for solar manufacturing and utility-scale solar development. The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia will develop the playbook along with The Solar Foundation and other partners.


In their Own Words: SolSmart in Southwest Virginia

“Southwest Virginia prides itself on the production of energy, and this is just a different way of continuing the energy production,” said Lou Wallace, member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors. “Many manufacturing companies are looking for communities and counties who are forward thinking, and having this designation just solidifies our commitment to our future.”

“UVa-Wise is pleased to see the SWVA Economic Forum of 2016 was the catalyst for sparking interest in solar capacity among our localities,” said Becki Joyce, Program Director for Community and Economic Development University of Virginia’s College at Wise. “This model of regional collaboration proves Southwest Virginia is open to improving local processes in order to attract business prospects for solar companies. We are proud of the work these communities have accomplished in reaching bronze level designation.”

“Southwest Virginia has an abundant solar resource as well as the human resources to build a strong solar workforce,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “We congratulate these communities on achieving SolSmart designation, which will open new opportunities for job creation and economic growth.”

“These communities in Southwest Virginia are prime examples of how local government can make it easier to access solar energy through streamlining regulations and implementing solar initiatives,” said Marc Ott, Executive Director of the International City/County Management Association. “Congratulations to these communities on achieving SolSmart designation and for their actions in empowering residents and business to go solar.”