Capturing solar to benefit Appalachian communities and their people

  • Mary Ellen and Patrick Cassidy are owners of the historic Linsly Institute building in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia. By working with Community Power Network and WV SUN, the Cassidys successfully upgraded the building with energy efficiency measures, including the addition of solar panels on the property's garage. Mary Ellen Cassidy

  • Appropriately Applied Technologies - AAT - worked with the Cassidys on the solar panel design and installation for the Linsly Institute building. The firm works with solar co-ops throughout West Virginia to help communities create simple and affordable ways to go solar. In addition to Virginia, AAT also works homeowners and businesses in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Jamie Doyle/AAT

Mary Ellen and Patrick Cassidy are modest gift-givers, but on their 45th wedding anniversary they made an exception and went off the grid—to solar panels.

The energy upgrade wasn’t for their home but for the First State Capitol in Wheeling, West Virginia. The Cassidys purchased the building in 1993 and both were adamant about incorporating energy efficient measures into the historic preservation of the property, originally constructed in 1858.

“We found that to do both those things—keep it historically and culturally accurate and to choose the best environmental choice—was really expensive,” Mary Ellen says of the building, which now houses a law practice and other small businesses.

The Cassidys quickly realized that renovations would be extensive and costly, so Mary Ellen researched organizations that could lend recommendations on financing options and also provide technical expertise to the process. Her research led her to Community Power Network, a group of grassroots, local, state, and national organizations working to develop locally-based renewable energy projects and programs.

Through her participation in the network, Cassidy connected with West Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods, a program developing and expanding solar co-ops throughout the state in an effort to revitalize West Virginia’s economy and environment.

“It’s not just about putting solar panels on your roof,” Mary Ellen explains. “It’s about this community of people supporting the concept of solar.”

In West Virginia, that community of solar users is making their presence known. WV SUN operates demonstration projects throughout the state showing how solar works and who can benefit from the technology. Members of the co-op model use their collective buying power to purchase panels at a discounted price. WV SUN then works to ensure groups get the best price and equipment from reputable companies.

One of the biggest misconceptions about solar is that it’s too expensive. Over the last five years, though, costs associated with solar have dropped by almost 50%. Those who need it most—affordable housing tenants, churches, small businesses—now have access to the technology and financing, as well as multi-level support from organizations like Community Power Network and WV SUN. “It’s like having all of these experts at your fingertips,” Cassidy says.

After three years of work, energy efficiency upgrades on the First State Capitol in Wheeling are complete, including installation of the solar panels. Downtown passersby notice the panels and are inquiring about new and available technology. For a renewable-energy advocate like Mary Ellen, it’s a priceless gift that will keep on giving—even radiate—for years to come.


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