NORTON, Va. — Appalachian Voices was recently awarded $1.5M by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to catalyze commercial and institutional solar projects for coal-impacted communities throughout Central Appalachia. This award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries. Additional support for the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund (SFF) is provided by the Appalachian Investment Ecosystem Initiative, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and other pending sources.
“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”
“We are thrilled for today’s announcement and thankful for the deep partnerships that made it possible, ” said Adam Wells, Regional Director of Community and Economic Development for Appalachian Voices. “The vision for the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund is rooted in the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia, which has worked since 2016 to bring the benefits of solar to coal communities in the commonwealth. The implementation of this program will be underpinned by the Central Appalachian Network, which links groups across the Appalachian region working to advance just transition and community-based economic development.”
“Invest Appalachia is excited to partner with Appalachian Voices and the Central Appalachian Network to implement the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund,” said Invest Appalachia CEO and SFF Executive Committee member Andrew Crosson. “This pioneering approach will catalyze investment into solar development across the region. This project creates quality jobs, cost savings and business growth in the communities that need it most. The SFF is a critical step for financing Appalachia’s transition to a more resilient, equitable and sustainable economic future.”
“Partner Community Capital is pleased to help anchor the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund,” said Partner Community Capital CEO Marten Jenkins. “PCAP sees solar as an opportunity to build more profitable, efficient and resilient businesses and community wealth. As a U.S. Treasury-certified community development financial institution (CDFI), it’s our job to develop creative, flexible and affordable options like the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund.”
Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $284 million in 320 projects across 353 coal-impacted counties. The $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,306 jobs, attract nearly $525 million in leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the Region.
ARC is working with Chamberlin/Dunn LLC, a third-party research firm, to closely monitor, analyze and evaluate these investments. A new report, published today in conjunction with the announcement, drew on 72 stories representing 44 unique POWER projects funded between fiscal years 2015-2020 to determine the most significant changes that occurred as a result of POWER.
The evaluation found that projects funded through POWER grants met or exceeded targets for jobs retained and/or created, businesses created, workers trained and revenues increased. Chamberlin/Dunn is continuing to monitor POWER investments and make recommendations to ARC for ongoing programmatic efficiencies.
The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund promotes economic diversification and creates positive economic impacts by deploying targeted financial tools to jumpstart emerging local solar markets and unlock new commercial and institutional solar energy projects that face unique barriers due to region-specific challenges. The SFF will use this ARC POWER award to deploy select subgrant awards for solar projects on nonprofit and public buildings.
The SFF also will develop investment and credit enhancement strategies and will facilitate competitive contracts for technical assistance for solar installations on commercial enterprises. The resulting solar projects will produce a powerful convergence of employment opportunities, business creation, new investments and wealth retention in Central Appalachian communities directly impacted by the decline in the coal economy.
In 2019, Appalachian Voices received a POWER Technical Assistance grant to support the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia’s efforts and create a pathway to bring its models around solar development to scale; the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund is the result of that process.
“People Incorporated is thrilled to see this effort come to life,” said Bryan Ailey, Vice President and Chief Development Officer at People Incorporated of Virginia, a Community Action Agency and co-convenor of the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia. “People Inc. has been working for years to bring the benefits of solar to our multifamily housing units to help our low- to moderate-income residents lower their utility bills and deepen the affordability of our properties. Resources from the Solar Finance Fund have the potential to make that challenging process significantly easier and help us pass on energy savings to those who need it most.”
“The interest and collaboration with energy and economic transition in Southwest Virginia is both important and rewarding. This program compliments and builds on Virginia’s clean energy and energy equity goals and is certainly a success to celebrate,” said Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy Director John Warren. “As part of the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia, we applaud ARC and Appalachian Voices and are excited to support this path toward accessible clean energy across the region.”
“This project will build the right kind of pipeline in our region — a pipeline of investment for shovel-ready solar projects that ensure Appalachia remains a key player in the energy economy of the future,” said Sarah Conley-Ballew, Director of Sustainable Energy Solutions at Rural Action in Appalachian Ohio, who will serve on the SFF Review Committee.
“We are thrilled to be working with Appalachian Voices to get critically needed funding to solar projects in Appalachia,” said Carrie Ray, Energy Programs Coordinator at The Mountain Association in Berea, Ky. Ray also co-chairs the Central Appalachian Network’s Clean Energy Working Group. Both are key SFF project partners. “Rooftop solar has huge potential both to save money and to create jobs in the region, and this will help keep the momentum going,” Ray said.
“The first SWVA Economic Forum, held on the campus of UVA Wise in 2016, was the catalyst that launched the Solar Workgroup, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the progress this team has made to help solar initiatives gain traction in the region,” said Shannon Blevins, Vice Chancellor of Administration, Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives at UVA Wise.
Find out more at appalachianvoices.org/solar-finance-fund.