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Wise County chosen for residential solar program

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Solar technologies

While 46% of homeowners have given serious thought to the idea of installing solar panels on their homes, just 6% of U.S. homeowners told the Pew Research Center in 2019 that they had installed solar panels at home. Reducing utility bills and helping the environment were among the top reasons they cited, though bumping up their home’s value could prove to be another benefit.

One study found buyers are willing to pay premiums averaging about $15,000 for homes with an average-sized system. Another report estimates a solar energy system that saves $200 per year would add $4,000 to a home’s value.

Solar power is coming to homes in Wise County, Virginia through a special new program. 

The Virginia Department of Energy (Virginia Energy) announced Wednesday it is seeking proposals from companies willing to finance and install solar at low- to moderate-income homes in Wise County. 

According to a Virginia Energy press release, the Request for Proposal (RFP) includes $460,000 in federal funds from the department for residential solar installations at single family, owner-occupied homes. 

“This opportunity will help lower energy bills for residents,” Virginia Energy Director John Warren said in the release. “Solar is an important piece in Virginia Energy’s economic development efforts in Southwest Virginia, and we hope to see new companies and new jobs as a result.” 

“This is a first of its kind for Virginia,” Tarah Kesterson, public relations manager for Virginia Energy, said. “We are putting solar on homes – that hasn’t been done by a government agency in Virginia.” 

According to Kesterson, the information gathered from Virginia Energy’s RFP will be used to create a study on low- to middle-income financing for residential solar. Currently, there is not yet a solar financing program in Virginia for that population, Kesterson said.  

Virginia Energy says it is going to utilize results from the execution of the RFP to plan for a Low to Moderate Income Solar Loan and Rebate fund, which has not yet been created, but would be a way for eligible households to receive financing for solar installs through grants or loans, Kesterson said. 

Although the project is in its infancy, Kesterson said the goal is to give residents opportunities to have financing available for solar installations while also creating economic development opportunities for the area. 

Wise County was selected for the project partially because of its gold designation from SolSmart, Virginia Energy said. 

“That's basically a way to signify to the solar industry that the county is ready for solar,” Kesterson said. “It’s not something they are figuring out as they go along. They are prepared to do business with solar companies.” 

Kesterson said hopefully by the fall eligible homeowners in Wise County will be able to apply for solar installations. More than 3,000 Wise County homes could be eligible for the program. 

More information on how to apply will be released after the contract is awarded. Proposals are being accepted through Aug. 2.

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