WISE — More than 150 people turned out Tuesday afternoon at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise to learn about solar energy innovations and local efforts to expand their use.
Participants included the Ridgeview High School robotics club, displaying a robot that will eventually use solar power, and the Eastside High School ecology club, demonstrating a solar-powered cell phone charger. Each club won a $500 grant for its efforts.
The Southwest Virginia Solar Workgroup hosted its first solar fair to help raise the profile of solar power options in the region. The event was a kickoff for last week's second annual SWVA Economic Forum, held in the college’s Prior Convocation Center.
The solar workgroup, a collection of nonprofit and community agencies, colleges, state agencies, regional planning organizations and others, was formed last year as a result of discussions during the inaugural economic forum.
The solar fair brought visitors to Carl Smith Stadium to see a variety of displays showcasing solar technology and growth in this and other sectors of renewable energy.
In addition to those from Ridgeview and Eastside, other displays included information from Washington County-based eNRG, or Energizing Renewable Growth in the Holston Valley; Mountain Empire Community College’s SPARC-E mobile solar unit, which provided electricity for a kids’ bouncy house; a hiker-sized solar camp stove; regional solar energy businesses; and more.
The fair was the event launching the workgroup’s Solarize Wise initiative, a collaborative effort to make residential solar installation in Wise County cheaper and easier. The work group is working in Dickenson County as well and met at Ridgeview High School earlier this year.
According to one of the coordinators, Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices, the workgroup hopes soon to put out a request for proposals from solar contractors. Goals include making sure local contractors and MECC students are involved, he said.
In late summer 2017, the workgroup intends to publish a “roadmap” for solar development in far Southwest Virginia, including technical specifications, financing options and economic impact projections for about 20 sites across the region.