Across Central Appalachia, citizens are raising support for locally-owned renewable energy development. Wind, solar, and biopower development can create new job opportunities, shared revenues, and tax benefits for local economies.
Locally-owned Renewable Energy!
Renewable energy development that is locally owned involves participation from members of a community who have direct financial stake in the project beyond land lease agreements and tax revenues or incentives. While locally-owned projects differ based on the natural resources and the economic landscape, this type of development is structured to optimize benefits to the community.
The JOBS Project began siting for locally-owned wind development in Central Appalachia in 2009. Preliminary siting for wind development is based on wind speed data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), weather stations throughout the region, the layout of the existing power grid, and willingness from the community to support local energy development.
In 2010, a group of landowners and local authorities in a West Virginia community formed a limited liability company to study the wind resource on their land. The Angel Winds Energy Association, LLC will continue to pursue commercial scale wind development. Look for Angel Winds updates on the JOBS Project blog.
Biopower: Pyrolysis and CHP
Biopower is electricity derived from various types of organic material. These materials are usually logging residues and waste wood from local mills and timbering outfits. However, The JOBS Project is also interested in the creation of dedicated bio-energy croplands for prolonged feedstock availability. The JOBS Project is exploring opportunities to use this woody biomass for pyrolysis and combined heat and power (CHP) facilities.
Pyrolysis is a method of producing marketable electricity through the thermal decomposition of a feedstock. Processing woody biomass in this way creates solid, liquid, and gaseous co-products. The solid bio-char is used as a soil amendment with carbon sequestration properties suitable for post-mining land reclamation. The liquid bio-oil serves as fuel to power pyrolysis facilities. Bio-gas is processed and used to generate electricity for the power grid.
Combined heat and power (CHP) enables lumber yards and saw mills to manage wood waste and become self-sufficient energy producers. Wood waste is fired on-site to create steam and electricity for the drying and processing of lumber.
Solar: Sustainable Communities
Solar photovoltaic (PV) and hot water technology helps individuals become more energy independent, and is becoming increasingly profitable. We are working with local development authorities and business owners in our home town of Williamson, West Virginia to create a replicable, sustainable model for solar energy. Our aim is to research, design, and build a large rooftop solar farm on downtown Williamson rooftops. We are collaborating with W. Va-based Mountain View Builders to train local electricians to assess rooftop sites, finance solar panels, and connect to the electrical grid.
Conventionally, power plants have been large, centralized units. Distributed generation facilities are dispersed, providing enough electricity to meet the local energy demand while also producing a small surplus. Additionally, the promotion of distributed energy generated from wind, solar, and biomass energy enables power companies to more efficiently manage peak power periods.
Rural communities are challenged by their low population density, less advanced technology, lower innovative capacity, and limited activity base. The ability to stimulate innovation requires that the rural infrastructure includes roads, waterways, power grids, and organizational structures that are tied to a central nucleus, thus providing an incubator for new ideas that draws on collective resources to adapt to change.
Collaborations between formal organizations (nonprofit organizations, RE companies) and informal groups (energy generation employees, community members) will combine knowledge to guide development in the renewable energy sector, promoting openness and diminishing the limitations of regional isolation (ARC, 2006).
Distributed energy generation, employee participation, community ownership, and collaboration with local research institutions are essential elements to technological innovation.