A creative product of Our Mountain State (ourmountainstate.org), the following story accompanied this video:
Few people living in West Virginia's coalfields think to install a rooftop solar system, and Dr. Dino Beckett was no different. Despite working as a leader in his community for years -- starting a low-cost clinic, opening a coffee shop, and serving on local boards -- the idea to "go green" wasn't on his radar. It was the advice of Eric Mathis, a newcomer to Williamson, that made him wonder what it would be like to have solar panels on the roof of his downtown clinic.
"You always have to have somebody to take that first step in order to get the ball rolling," says Dr. Beckett.
After talking it over with his wife and doing some research, he decided to become the first Williamson resident to go solar. Like all new technology, the initial investment was expensive; but Dr. Beckett expects the 48 panels will pay for themselves in about five years. Considering they won't need replaced for roughly 30 years, he can expect more than two decades of low-cost, environmentally friendly energy. He believes going solar was a wise investment when, even in the coalfields, electricity costs have been on the rise.
Dr. Beckett's installation is believed to be the largest solar array in southern West Virginia, and many of the patients that visit his clinic are curious about how the system works. He hopes it will encourage other residents to consider using sustainable energy in their own homes. One Williamson local, Vinnie Kudva, has already installed a solar water heater and 10 panels on his roof.
"It is very difficult to change the behavior of the people," says Mr. Kudva. "I talk to a lot of people and I hope it will catch on."
The solar spark in Williamson began, in large part, with Eric Mathis. Passionate about building a greener economy in Appalachia, Mr. Mathis has spearheaded a local initiative called the JOBS project. The group's mission is to create regional jobs centered around sustainable development and, thus far, they have helped create a farmer's market, community gardens, and what's soon to be the first locally-owned wind farm in central Appalachia.
Part of the project's job-creation goal was realized when Mountain View Solar, the largest solar installation company in West Virginia, traveled to Williamson to install Dr. Beckett's rooftop panels. While there, they helped to train local residents in solar installation. One of those residents is a coal-mining electrician named Mathew Gilliam, and he has since started his own Williamson-based solar installation company, Gilliam Solar. Now he's trying to work with local building and landowners to see how they may be able to utilize solar power.
"We want every one of these roofs just covered in solar panels," says Mr. Mathis, while looking out over downtown Williamson. It may be a long way off, but a few believe Dr. Beckett's roof signifies the beginning of a new industry in the heart of coal country.
Photographs and multimedia story by Lacey Ann Johnson