By Sarah Richardson
Construction is underway at several houses around the Greenbrier Valley region as they prepare for solar panel installation thanks to the efforts of Bethlehem Farms. Described as a “Catholic community in Appalachia that transforms lives through service of the local community and the teaching of sustainable practices,” the farm has been working hard to make solar access easier and affordable for those that may not have the resources to compete such an undertaking on their own.
“One of the biggest obstacles to solar access is finances, and also finding companies and contractors that will work with you, filling out the proper paperwork with the power company, and other difficult steps,” explained Gemma Stanton, an AmeriCorp member and caretaker at Bethlehem Farms.
“We leverage our knowledge and resources to connect people with roofers and other professionals. We call and check in with the power company, because it’s hard to pursue solar while balancing the rest of your life. We try to be there to be a resource to help navigate the whole process.”
However, they also assist with the financial portion by offering interest-free loans to those who qualify, a step that makes solar drastically more attainable.
“One key part of the process that the farm helps facilitate is providing a 20-year interest-free loan for solar,” she said. “With this loan payment, some people end up breaking even with their monthly energy costs until the loan is paid off, and others end up paying less per month from the start. When the loan is paid for, the individual’s overall power cost per month will then only consist of whatever energy bill the solar may not cover.”
“We know the cost of energy is going to go up basically every year, so this does save money in the long run,” she added.
The loans are provided through grants obtained by Bethlehem Farms. So far, they have financed four household projects and one nonprofit project. One is finished, another is currently being installed, and two are getting prep work done for the panels.
“This is about more than just saving money,” said Stanton, “it’s also a way to lower your carbon footprint.”
Bethlehem Farms serve the Greenbrier, Monroe, and Summers county region, and households that fit their income guidelines. Visit their website at bethlehemfarm.net under the Solar Panels tab to learn more or apply.