[Editor's Note: In this column we invited Eric Mathis, president of the JOBS Project, to pen a piece about sustainable development in the coalfields of Appalachia, where a recent announcement about a small scale solar power project being installed in coal country's heart caught our eye.]
Nestled in the heart of Central Appalachian Coal County, Williamson Redevelopment Authority (WRA) has adopted a new slogan: “Where Sustainability Meets Development.” WRA is a public development organization based in Mingo County, West Virginia.
“For the town of Williamson, renewable energy and sustainable development is not about taking coal jobs,” said Williamson Mayor Darrin McCormick. “It is about maintaining West Virginia’s legacy as an energy producer by providing a viable mechanism for sustainable economic diversification in the fastest growing sector in energy today, the renewable energy sector.”
Primarily focusing on free market approaches, WRA’s partner – The JOBS Project or simply “JOBS” – is initiating a regional strategy for sustainable development in Central Appalachia. By creating non-traditional allies and reaching across the table on divided issues, JOBS staff and partners are developing a blueprint for market-based sustainability in the “heart of the billion dollar coalfield.”
JOBS is a nonprofit organization that fosters sustainable and scalable projects in wind, solar and bio-power throughout the communities of Central Appalachia. The organization emphasizes regional collaboration among educational and financial institutions, community and government organizations and renewable-energy businesses. Based in Williamson, W.Va., the agency is directed by a nine-member board that strives to provide technical leadership and market-based approaches in sustainable enterprises.
Openly challenging the contemporary debate that pits renewable energy against coal as well as the importance of emphasizing climate change, The JOBS Project’s CEO and WRA board member Eric Mathis [who is also the author of this column] stated that “the challenge for us is to develop proactive solutions by avoiding an ‘us against them’ approach.” He went on to say that “I believe we need to talk about where the rubber hits the road for most Americans by focusing on immediate issues such as paying bills, finding a job, and raising healthy children.”
JOBS mantra is actively creating economic proof of concepts such as shared value creation. This concept is based on developing policies and business models that enhance the competitiveness of Central Appalachia while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions of the communities which make up this region.
The JOBS Project is actively stimulating the emergence of competitive markets which link rural communities with their urban counterparts. Through these linkages, an emphasis on open business models and a strategic focus on regional innovation clusters some of the most pioneering approaches to sustainability are being created today.
“By integrating concepts like shared value creation, open business models and regional innovation clusters into our development strategy, we can begin to unpack one of the most perplexing pillars of sustainability today: economics,” said Mathis.
Currently, The JOBS Project is presently developing the following:
- Commercial and residential solar photo-voltaic (PV)
- Solar installation training programs
- Wind Resource Assessment Program (WRAP) for community wind
- Utility-scale community wind
- Utility-scale pyrolysis bio-energy
- LEED Platinum training center for energy efficiency and renewable energy
- Energy-Regional Innovation Cluster (E-RIC) program – emphasizing open innovation
- Central Appalachian Renewable Energy (CARE) advisory committee
- Replicable Local Energy Action Plans (LEAP)
Additionally, Williamson Redevelopment Authority is developing the following:
- Replicable rural health clinics
- Sycamore recreation park emphasizing sustainability
- Replicable farmers market
- Downtown sustainability hub located at the historical train depot
Recently JOBS and Mountain View Solar launched the installation of a 11.27kW commercial scale PV system on Dr. Beckett’s (WRA Chair) health clinic in downtown Williamson. This project is one among many which will go on line over the next year. Additionally, JOBS and Alpha Energy is installing a meteorological tower for Angel Winds Renewable Energy, LLC: this tower will collect wind data for a community wind farm in Monroe County with a projected capacity of 16MW.