- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Water heaters are helping a Shepherdstown church reduce its electricity costs.

A community-funded project involving water heaters will pay the $55,000 cost of a 60-panel solar energy system installed on the roof of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. About 100 Shepherdstown area residents and businesses have agreed to have demand-response controllers installed on their electric water heaters, media outlets reported.

The controllers are managed by Maryland-based Mosaic Power., which will sell electricity saved with the devices to the power grid during peak-use times, company co-founder Greg Vaudreuil said Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting for the church’s solar energy system.

Mosaic Power pays customers $100 year to participate in the program. The Shepherdstown participants will donate their payments to the church to pay for the system.

“We knew about the environmental benefits of solar power. We knew about the long-term economic benefits. We really had no idea that this project could also build community. It could strengthen our resolve to work together for a clean energy future in West Virginia and Appalachia,” Than Hitt, a member of the church, said. “We’ve invested in our future, and we hope to be a model for the state.”

Hitt said the system will generate about half of the church’s electricity.

Solar Holler of Shepherdstown developed the project’s financial model to make solar energy affordable for nonprofits.

“It’s really hard for nonprofits because all of the solar incentives are through tax credits,” Solar Holler co-founder Dan Conant said. “If you don’t pay taxes in the first place, you can’t get a credit. Very few nonprofits of any kind have gone solar, and what we’ve done here has created a model that can work for any group in West Virginia.”

He said installing the water heater controllers created a funding stream to pay off loans for the solar energy system within five years. The church’s cost is $1.

Solar Holler plans a similar project for the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library. Organizers there hope to recruit 75 water heater owners to pay for a solar power system.

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