Solar AND Coal in West Virginia?

BBC America reporters Marc Adams and Michael Maher recently visited Williamson, West Virginia to explore the rumors that one town in a stalwart coal state was embracing solar. What Adams and Maher discovered was a town taking a nuanced view that change is likely to come and preparing for a transition might be a good thing – even and especially for a coal town like Williamson.

Among those interviewed, which you can read about here or watch the video version here, was Matt McKechnie of Mountain View Solar and Wind. McKechnie told Adams: “”Fossil fuel is a finite source. It will eventually run out. “That [the sun] won’t. At some point the transition will have to be made. Making it now is a good idea, especially in our state.”

Edna Thompson and Mark Mitchell, owners of the Mountaineer Hotel, agree with McKechnie and are in the process of having a solar PV-panel system installed on the roof of the hotel. While they acknowledge the longer-term cost savings that prompted them to put in the solar system, Thompson acknowledged that not everyone in town would see it that way. They do not plan to draw significant attention to the solar system as a hotel asset, because “Sometimes you don’t talk about it because you think you’re gonna get a negative reaction ’cause you don’t want your friends to think negatively about you or your business. So it’s hard. It’s very hard.”

Appalachian Transition Initiative partner Eric Mathis of the JOBS Project weighed in, explaining that those who support renewable energy recognize the need to create long-term, good jobs in West Virginia. Allaying fears that an increase in solar panel installations would result in a decrease of coal-industry jobs, Mathis stressed: “I’m not here to take jobs. I’m here to bring jobs. I’m here to actually bring development.”

Not all residents in Williamson agree that solar power is the answer. Roger Horton, representing Citizens for Coal, emphasized how essential meaningful employment is – and that currently, such employment is tied closely to the coal industry.

However – that the dialogue about energy sources of the future and long-term employment opportunities is taking place in coal communities in West Virginia is substantial. Adding to this impressive development is that a globally renowned news source like BBC is covering the conversation. Your continued participation in this Transition process and exchange makes these types of stories possible.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.