Morgantown farmers market turns on solar power - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Morgantown farmers market turns on solar power

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A Morgantown farmers market has kicked on the solar power and is now the first of its kind in West Virginia.

The Mountain Institute, a non-profit organization that supports education and sustainable development in mountain regions, donated the solar system to the Farmers Market Pavilion. The group estimates the 12 panels with a capacity of more than 3 kilowatts will power about half of the activities at the farmers market.

They started with a relatively small system, but that system is expandable.

An official ribbon cutting was hosted for the event last week where about 35 people attended.

The market will also feature a car charging station where consumers can park and charge their vehicles while they are in downtown Morgantown. On weekdays, the area is used a covered parking lot operated by the Morgantown Parking Authority.

"A lot of the public was interested in the vehicle charger and really how the system itself worked," said Aaron Sutch, energy program manager with the Mountain Institute. "Whenever the sun is shining and even when it's cloudy, it produces electricity. It goes directly into powering whatever is being used on the structure. If the car charger is being used and there is electricity being produced, that electricity goes directly to the car charger. At night or during times of low solar production, the grid kicks in."

Sutch said Mountain Institute chose the structure because of its visibility and because it is a city-owned structure. He said officials were initially hesitant about the technology but came on board after they realized the $20,000 solar system would be donated.

When the project was announced, Tom Arnold, executive director of the Morgantown Parking Authority, said the plan fit into the Authority's interest in the "bottom line."

"If solar can save the City money and enhance our services to the public, then it fits within our mission," Arnold said. According a news release, the system is expected to save the Authority approximately $4,000 in its first ten years of operation.

Sutch said the Mountain Institute hopes to see expanded interest in project.

"We see this as a first step for the Mountain Institute to facilitate future projects like this where we can leverage funds from grants or raise money ourselves and then go in with other entities to basically start planting the seeds of solar," Sutch said.

He said that West Virginia, despite what some might thing, is ideal for solar.

"People are under the impression that you have to be in the desert southwest to have solar," Sutch said. "In fact, solar works for West Virginia. We have pretty decent solar resources. Our weather isn't really a factor. We get some rain, and that does a good job of washing off the panels."

Sutch said there are some policy obstacles that make it difficult to compete with fossil fuels in the state.