Open houses show off solar across West Virginia

Robert and Myra Fernatt welcome visitors to their open house.

The benefits of going solar are many. One of the top ones is that it can be a great conversation starter. Solar homeowners across the state are using their systems to share their experience of going solar with friends and neighbors.

Robert and Myra Fernatt of Falling Waters welcomed neighbors and community members into their home to learn about solar energy this January. Earlier this month, next-door neighbors, friends, and solar homeowners Diane Blust and Jennifer Wilkerson hosted a double solar open house at their adjacent homes in Harpers Ferry.

More than a dozen people came to see the Fernatts’ 11.3-kW roof-mounted solar PV installation on a sunny January day. A local television reporter also stopped by and featured a short segment on the open house during that evening’s newscast. The Fernatts’ solar system had been operational for nearly four months at the time. It has largely eliminated their power bills.

Robert and Myra offered rides in their Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (EV) in addition to the solar tour. One visiting couple who took a ride were amazed at the silence of the vehicle. Experiencing an EV for the first time can be surprising, as the vehicle makes no noise or vibration while running. Visitors were interested to learn that the Fernatts power their car with energy from their solar panels. Driving without buying gasoline or stopping at a gas station is just one of the benefits of an EV.

More than two dozen people attended Diane Blust’s and Jennifer Wilkerson’s double solar open house in February. Both homes are equipped with grid-tied solar PV arrays and battery storage systems for emergency backup power. Jennifer’s home features a 7.5-kW ground-mounted solar array and 27 kWh of battery storage capacity. Diane’s home features a 10.25-kW solar array and 56 kWh of battery storage capacity. Diane’s system includes both roof-mounted and ground-mounted solar panels. She also has a solar hot water system.

Visitors were interested in the costs and savings associated with solar as well as the systems’ technical details. “Almost everyone assumed that since I had batteries, I must be completely off-grid,” Wilkerson said. “They were surprised to learn that I was grid-tied and wanted to know exactly how the energy generated from the panels was allocated and how it traveled through the system.”

Open house attendees inquired about typical payback periods for residential solar installations (10-12 years at West Virginia’s current electricity rates), why one should join a local solar co-op (invaluable prior experience provided at no cost to homeowners, and group buying power), and whether the federal tax incentive is still available (a 30% tax credit is available through 2019). The open house hosts answered these and many other questions while showing visitors the various components of their solar systems. Visitors left with more knowledge and hopefully a desire to join a local solar co-op and go solar with support and guidance from Solar United Neighbors!

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