WHEELING - While Eugene Scherrer recognizes the importance of coal and natural gas in powering the Ohio Valley, he is doing his part to promote alternative energy sources in the area.
Scherrer, who owns Scherrer Engineering, has installed a 60-foot wind turbine and a solar panel on his Marshall County property.
According to Scherrer, he installed the three-blade turbine in April 2009 out of a personal interest in wind energy, not for its financial benefit.
Marshall County resident Eugene Scherrer stands outside his home, with a wind turbine in the background.
"The economics just aren't there," he said of wind turbines in West Virginia. He added that states such as Maryland and Ohio offer subsidies for those who invest in wind energy, while the Mountain State does not.
Scherrer admitted that the peaks and valleys of the local area serve as impediments to creating a substantial wind energy source. However, he said the spine of the Appalachian Mountains is an ideal location for wind turbines.
The initial investment for the turbine was more than $15,000, and the amount of energy that it produces will take many years to recoup the expense.
Is solar energy a viable alternative in the local area, where the sun doesn't shine as much as it does in other parts of the nation? How about wind power?
Eugene Scherrer believes both forms of energy are viable, and has installed a solar panel and a wind turbine at his Marshall County home as part of his effort to go green. Scherrer also sells the items at his Bethlehem business. However, wind power has proven to be largely ineffective when compared to its cost return, simply because the wind doesn't blow hard enough in the local area - even on the hilltops.
The particular turbine Scherrer has produces about 1,500 to 2,000 kilowatt hours annually. The difference in watts is deducted from each month's electric bill.
The amount of created energy is calculated on a computer inside of Scherrer's home, which allows him to predict future production as well as see current trends.
As for other forms of alternative energy, Scherrer said there is a common misconception when it comes to solar energy in the Ohio Valley.
"Solar energy does work. This area receives 75 to 80 percent of the sunlight that Miami (Fla.) receives," he noted.
When temperatures peak in the summer months, Scherrer's solar panel, which he installed in April, can produce enough energy to allow him to be completely off the grid.
Scherrer said he is in discussion with an industrial client in Marshall County interested in alternative energy sources, and is confident that interest will spread throughout the Ohio Valley.
"There's been significant interest expressed by people in both wind and solar," he noted. "Once people become more educated, there's going to be growth."
Officials in the Buckeye State have taken a major step toward facilitating that growth.
In January, it was announced that Turning Point Solar selected Noble County as the construction site for what will be the largest solar field east of the Rocky Mountains.
Scott Braden, president of the Noble County Community Improvement Corp., said officials were considering three sites in Morgan, Muskingum and Noble counties.
The deciding factor relative to location was input from the Spanish companies responsible for producing the components of the project.
Engineers from the prominent Spanish solar power manufacturers Prius Energy S.L. and Isofoton decided Noble County was the optimal location after visiting all three sites.
"It gives us some bragging rights," Braden said of Noble County's selection.
According to Braden, the solar farm will consist of nearly 240,000 solar panels occupying approximately 500 acres of reclaimed mine land owned by American Electric Power. He added that the farm will provide enough energy to supply 25,000 homes with electricity.
With the endeavor, Noble County will be classified as an alternative energy zone. That classification means tax incentives for other alternative businesses operating in the county.
Braden said construction is expected to begin in 2012, with the first solar panel to be installed that summer. Approximately 300 jobs will be needed at peak construction of the project. Braden said 49.9 megawatts will be phased in to the facility during the three-year construction period.
Additionally, Prius and Isofoton have agreed to locate their North American operations in Ohio, creating more than 300 permanent manufacturing jobs.
"It will be employed by Ohioans making Ohio products," Braden said of the manufacturing site, whose final location has not yet been decided.
Officials have not received overwhelming response from businesses following the project's announcement, but Braden is confident interest will rise as solar energy technology grows.
"It's early in the game, but those people will surface," he noted. "Alternative energy as a whole is not the most reliable source of energy, but we're getting closer to that every day."
While no immediate plans are in place for establishing wind energy sources in Noble County, Braden says the results of a university study could have a positive impact in the area.
According to Braden, Ohio University is currently conducting wind studies in southern Ohio.
He said that positive data from the study, coupled with tax incentives, would make Noble County an enticing location for companies interested in wind energy. Results from that study are expected to become available in the summer.