Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hurricane (Blizzard) Sandy

It's hard to believe, but if you live in the highlands your truck probably looked like this last week.......

We lost power and got snowed in.  Everyone coped with the situation differently.  This guy picked up five gas cans and seven cases of light beer. Getting loaded and keeping the generator running  is a common strategy when dealing with mother nature at her worst.

After installing super slick battery backup systems for others I was forced to engineer a less glamorous and and far more limited version of my own simply to get the heat back up and running for a couple of days while MonPower worked to restore the juice.  It's not pretty, automatic, code-compliant or otherwise sustainable, but it kept us warm (until the old batteries I had lying around finally pooped out and we had to go stay with mom and dad).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

FirstEnergy Looks to Saddle West Virginia Customers with Worst Energy

I bet reporter Pam Kasey considered the above title for her recent piece in this weeks State Journal,

Bottom line..............MonPower wants to add a surcharge to your bill to cover the purchase of coal-fired power plants that have been made economically obsolete in neighbor markets like Ohio.  MonPower would like to force you, the "captive ratepayer", to pay for the purchase through a new surcharge and then saddle you with paying for coal-fired power which is no longer price competitive with natural gas. 

MonPower is a FirstEnergy subsidiary.  FirstEnergy owns utilities in many states but it is consolidating its liability in our state and asking the Public Service Commission to make West Virginians pick up the tab. 

I could maybe get behind this move if it involved a rate hike to cover the capital expense of the power plant purchase.  At home we make most of our own power with solar.  My wife and I made an investment in power generating equipment.  We chose a generating technology that has a fuel cost of $0.  We should not be paying for either  FirstEnergy's shell game or MonPower's investment in an already outmoded and out priced  piece of generation infrastructure.  Certainly, we should not be paying a surcharge on our bill.

This piece of news is worth keeping an eye on as it concerns everyone with an electric bill in the State of West Virginia.  Take a minute to read Pam Kasey's article and keep an eye out as this story progresses - it is one of many stories that is growing out of the rapidly changing energy market, the rise of natural gas, decline of coal and shifting political power in West Virginia.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Solar Power Came in Handy During Outage - Charleston Gazette

Pat Browning submitted a beautifully written letter to The Charleston Gazette about her family's experience with their solar backup system during last months outages.  She writes,

 "When the power went off, our solar storage batteries took over, powering us through the night, recharging by day.  We did not lose refrigerated and frozen food, our fans continued to cool us, our lights, radio and television still worked, and our water still pumped without a noisy, smelly, polluting generator."  

Her piece appears next to another well written letter from a WVU alumni, Ted Bitterwolf, who reminds readers that coal is being priced out of the market place by natural gas, not by the Obama administration.  Both are well worth reading as they highlight how our energy infrastructure in West Virginia is undergoing a technological and an ideological shift which may gain us all a cleaner and more reliable energy future.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July Storms and Solar Power Backup Systems

...We were in fine shape with the solar. I think the power outages were such a lesson in energy independence.  I'm a believer and tell everyone about PIMBY.  Thanks so much for everything. 

Well, I was without power all weekend and the solar worked perfectly! Beautiful!! I was very happy not to lose all my food.   

I got a nice note.  Actually, I got a couple of nice notes and a few phone calls too from customers who rode out the region-wide power outages of this past month with battery backup.  


Our backup system is working exactly as planned.  We were in NY over the weekend, and, of course, our battery system kicked in automatically after the Friday night storm.  We would have had to cut our trip short if we hadn't had the system, to come home and save our freezer.  As it was, we got home last night and everything is humming along.

Power in our part of Calhoun will be out until Saturday, at the earliest.  We used about .7 kwh last night after the panels quit generating.  At 5 kwh production per day, we should be able to continue like this indefinitely.  Well, the batteries might give out after ten years.

Just thought you'd like to know.  Thanks so much for all your help creating a really reliable system.


Bill, who penned the letter above, and his wife were without power for twelve days. Bill said that you could hear the generators running up and down the hollow at his neighbor's homes. 

Usually, folks opt for battery-backup because they live in a locale that frequently loses utility power (and may lose it for some period of time).  Battery-backup designed into a solar PV system can insure that critical loads like fridge, freezer, microwave, well pump, lights, TV, etc... continue to operate per normal when utility power goes down.  Some systems incorporate a generator in addition to help augment re-charging from the solar panels.  Some systems have plenty of solar to do without a generator.

Battery-backup system electronics in Morgantown, WV.  System is charged by a 1.44-kW PV array and propane generator.

 The flooded lead-acid batteries used to provide backup power during grid outages.

 4.8-kW solar PV array which keeps the lights on for Bill and Pat in Hillsboro, WV.

Electronics (inverters) used to condition solar power for battery backup and sale back to the utility.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

New Solar Power Plant Installed in Hillsboro, WV

I haven't blogged about a solar project in a little while and I think this recent installation is well worth posting.  It's a 4.8-kW PV array built with Sharp 240-watt PV modules on a ground-mounted rack.  This system is wired to net meter with the local utility.  It was designed so that its annual production approximates the homeowners annual demand.

This is the stage at which it is important to step back and take some pictures while Chris keeps working and finishes the job. 

Bill and Pat, who own the system, have a nicely constructed home which is designed to benefit from  passive solar heating, but the roof lacked the square footage to mount the twenty solar modules.  That landed us out in the pasture adjacent to the yard which turned out to be a great spot with a clear skyview.

Bill and Pat are pretty energy conscientious.  They have energy efficient fixtures, heat with wood, and use a clothesline rather than a dryer.  That keeps their energy demand low and makes it less expensive to meet their annual demand with a solar PV system.  Imagine if all your neighbors made 100% of their own electric!

In addition to making clean power, the installed system includes a battery bank for supplying backup power in the event that the utility should experience an outage.  The battery bank has storage for 14-kWh of power which can be recharged by both the solar and a portable generator.  The upshot is that these folks can ride out a protracted outage while still having power for most of their appliances, lighting, well pump, heating system, etc... 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Free Lunch and No Free Markets

"There is not a single free and rational market for energy anywhere on earth. Never has been, likely never will be. We decide what fuels are readily available, abundant, useful and desirable, and we build the market to suit the exigencies of those fuels. (To cite just one case in point, the vast majority of North American power bills are calculated using a blended pricing process where a kilowatt-hour bought at peak demand on a hot day and generated by a dirty, inefficient, soon-to-be-shuttered coal plant costs as much as one bought in the middle of the night from a wind turbine or hydro dam or nuclear plant. We do this to make sure those old coal plants can pay themselves off over their full life and so forth. In short, we rig the market to support the status quo.)"

-Chris Turner (writing on MNN)

Robin W. passed along a link to Chris Turner's full piece and I thought it was a great follow-up to the last Green Collar blog about the Maryland SREC legislation. Talk about building the market......

Monday, April 16, 2012

Maryland Solar REC Prices May Get a Boost

The 4.32-kW solar PV array on the garage at Elk Ridge Native Plant Preserve is an example of a "customer generator" system that is creating Solar Renewable Energy Credits in the Maryland market.

The Maryland Solar REC market (SREC) has historically been pretty strong. There is a move afoot to keep it so as the legislature moves through HB1187 and SB791. These bills seek to adjust the SREC target to keep the market from becoming saturated. has some better analysis and a couple of graphs that would make a professor at any business college proud.

The result of this legislation is expected to be quite positive in the short-term for customer generators in Maryland. Really, this legislation is just in time as the present RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) requirement/quota was in danger of being overwhelmed by production from customer generators as well as by new utility-scale solar farms in the state. Failure to adjust initial RPS goals in the face of new solar capacity has allowed the SREC markets in Ohio and Pennsylvania to lapse into being something just short of insignificant.

Homeowners and businesses are eager to invest in solar. This is borne out time and again as incentive programs at the state level are overwhelmed by willing participants. The proposed changes to the Maryland solar carve-out is a temporary prop that will need further bolstering possibly as soon as next year. Public interest in solar exceeds the low bar that has been set by a number of states in their respective RPSs. Raising this bar is just a stop gap measure begging a better longer term system of compensating clean power producers for the premium energy that they generate.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hydroelectric Coming to an Off-grid Home that's Nowhere Near You

Don't throw out that old transit! We've got a hydro project.

This photo is worth enlarging just to see the etching. You can't buy one like this at Lowes!

Dave making sure that the penstock for the hydro turbine will convey water down hill. Mickey wanted to get the survey work done before the trees leafed out which made good sense as the rhododendron made measurements tricky enough.

Mickey and Jenny built this beautiful off-gird home and have used solar and a gasoline generator to power it since the 1970's . If you look closely at their PV array you will see a mixture of older and newer PV modules (I think there are some old Arco brand modules amongst the bunch.). Their hope is to use the hydro potential of the small stream behind their house to minimize the amount of generator run time during the winter months.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hello Cleveland............,WV - Cristi's Cook Shack

Cristi's Cook Shack is not in Ohio. It's in Cleveland, WV on Rt 20, south of Buckhannon, just into Webster County.

I wanted to post this b/c I'm excited about the prospect of stopping in again. I love food (good food) and I spend a lot of time on small roads throughout the Mountain State without the benefit of a Cook Shack nearby. Cristi's is so exceptional that it would be worth scheduling in as a day trip destination.

You can read reviews and get the digits for Cristi's at Urbanspoon. Cristi is open 7 days a week for breakfast (all day), lunch, and dinner. Cleveland, WV was established as a timber camp back in the peak lumber years. There is a gallery of historic photos on the walls and the converted gas station is renovated to give the feel of a lumber-era dining room - it's super cool and in a super sweet part of the state.

Not to go on about Cristi's, but............she had these great dinner specials on the menu that included things like Jambalaya for Fat Tuesday and Corned Beef w/ Cabbage for St. Pat's. And there was wine, and beer, and stone ground grits (I love grits), and huge hamburgers, and belgian pancakes, sandwiches with sauteed fresh greens and cheddar jack cheese......and all the bread is homemade too! All of this right in Cleveland!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

WV Small Farms Conference - Better and Better Every Year!

Just a quick note to follow-up on the single best way to welcome Spring back to the Mountain State - the WV Small Farms Conference. The event wrapped up on Saturday concluding a great three days of presentations, contests, and eating. Take a look to see some of the sumptuous photos that are included on the wvfarm2u blog (I love seeing fresh greens at this time of year - yum!!). As one conference goer noted, "The meals are worth the price of registration." I quite agree. It was a record year for the event in terms of revenue for the Winter Blues Farmers Market event and overall attendance. Next year (2013) the event will run from Feb 28 - Mar 2. Good food is good energy!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Alternative Energy at WV Small Farm Conference

West Virginia Small Farm Conference
Mar. 1-3, 2012
Waterfront Conference Center
Morgantown, WV

Alternative energy is once again prominently featured at this years WV Small Farm Conference. PIMBY will be doing a full-day workshop on Thursday (Mar. 1) focused on renewable energy basics (solar and wind electric) coupled with some hands-on activities.

Additionally, a 1-hour presentation on Saturday (Mar. 3) will address the siting of solar and wind energy systems for your home, farm or business.

This annual conference is a great time. It is such a nice way to get energized for the upcoming growing season. If you have not been before you should be aware that the banquet meals themselves are worth the registration fee - what good food!

Here's a sample of the conference topics this year:
Tom's Tax Tips, Mushrooms, Woodlot Management, Pole Buildings, Beekeeping, Aquaponics, Cheese Making, High Tunnels, Marcellus Taxation, Poultry Production, Small Ruminants, Farmers Markets, Aquaculture, Edible Landscaping, Medicinal Plants, Strawberries, Cut Flowers .................................................!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Taproot Farm

Taproot Farm
Capon Bridge, WV

Curious about straw bale or cob construction? Be sure to take a look at Taproot Farm's web site. They have opportunities upcoming where you can get your hands dirty and make something beautiful.

See the blog entry about Taproot's 5-kW solar PV array by clicking here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Good Energy: Urban Side (Flying Dreams?)

Babby-B! You're gonna love this one!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

West Virginia Solar: Bills in the Legislature Right Now!

Two bills are slated to go to the WV House Judiciary Committee this week. You can help them pass into law. Contact info for members of the committee can be found here.

Do you have a solar PV system already? Do you plan to have one in the future? Do you hope that these systems will become more ubiquitous throughout the Mountain State?

If so, these bills are worth your attention and your time - your phone call could help sway the vote. The bills are collectively referred to as the Solar Bill of Rights. The two bills address HOA restrictions and the taxation of solar energy systems.

A troupe of folks are at the capital helping to shepherd these bills along. John Christensen is helping to coordinate the effort and he has summarized the bills as follows:

HB 2740 is the bill which makes Homeowner’s Association’s (HOA) covenants that restrict the installation or use of solar energy systems unenforceable. The bill sets guidelines for timely permitting as well as recognized proper installation of the solar photovoltaic (pv) and solar thermal systems (shw) and provides for recognized certified standards in materials and performance in the systems. The bill also provides civil penalties for non-compliance to be paid to the applicant by the HOA in an amount not to exceed $1,000.00 and indemnify or reimburse any loss or damage caused by the installer to be paid to the HOA to or its members.

HB 2741 is the bill which gives owners of active solar energy systems a substantial reduction on their real and personal property taxes as it would be taxed at salvage value for tax reappraisal purposes. The bill would become law only if it makes its way through the entire legislative process before midnight on March 10, 2012, and then subsequently signed by the governor. The bill defines what an “active solar system” can be either solar (pv) or (shw) in nature including all parts and materials. The bill also addresses new construction and how the assessment will be handled before and after subsequent change in ownership. This bill started out to exempt the tax altogether but was found to be unconstitutional in a fiscal note provided to the finance committee last year therefore a subcommittee bill will be offered instead.

These bills were originally introduced last year. They have undergone some refinement and have gained some notable support. Del Mannypenny (D-Taylor) is the lead sponsor. If you have more questions about these bills you can contact John Christensen ( or take a look at the Legislative Update offered by the WV Environmental Council.

The update includes more bills than simply the Solar Bill of Rights. Bills critical to energy efficiency standards, bottle recycling and many many others are included. If you have not looked at the WVEC Legislative Update before it may be an eye opening experience.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blue Bird Days for Solar in Garrett County, MD

I was pleased as punch. Just checked on a solar PV system in Accident, MD yesterday and found the meter racing backward. This 2.4-kW solar PV system was installed by PIMBY Energy as part of a program administered by the Garrett County Community Action Committee. The GCCAC weatherization program had previously insulated the home and performed an energy audit so as to improve the comfort of the home and reduce its utility bills.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Solar / 2012 Waiting for Winter

Some winters are better for skiing and others are better for solar.

Yesterday found me wearing shorts and working in the garden while our home's PV system pushed more than 800-watts back to the grid. The weather has been so mild and sunny that we even have a Lenten Rose budding in the garden.

White Grass Ski Touring Center in January of last year.

The lack of snow has been bedeviling to the friends and neighbors who look forward to the season each year. It has been hard on the folks who make a living from tourism and winter sports here in Tucker County. I've added some photos from the last couple of winters - good times.

Skiied into this off-grid home to set the solar tracking system upright so that I could brush snow off . This must have been in 2010 when snow started in December and didn't quit until sometime in March.

The back forty in 2010

The way back forty in 2011

Winter days are shorter for sure, but when you do have a beautiful cold sunny day you can see record peak power production from a solar PV system. Cold temps conspire with added reflectance from snow and these two factors can cause production numbers to be surprisingly good despite shorter days (these are also the days when sunblock is a must if you are out in the snow!).

If you're missing skiing you can take some comfort from the following YouTube segment. It's about 5 minutes long and has nothing to do with photovoltaics, but it is imaginative and may cause your jaw to hit the floor. Enjoy. Think Snow!