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Contrary to stereotypes, West Virginians have been going solar for a long time.

Ask the town staff members in Hurricane, who installed solar energy in 2011 to save money at their wastewater treatment plant, or members of the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, who installed energy-saving devices in their homes and pooled the value of those savings to fund a solar installation on their church in 2014.

Or you can ask me, a native West Virginian who installed solar panels on my home in 2015 and who has literally made it my job for the past five years to educate our state’s elected officials, local leaders and the public about solar’s benefits.

Solar energy is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the United States. It creates jobs and lowers electricity costs, which allows community institutions like schools to put more money into teaching, hospitals to hire more nurses and businesses to invest in their services and employees.

But going solar is an uphill battle in West Virginia. Few state or local incentives exist to help our residents, businesses and communities switch to affordable, locally produced solar energy. Meanwhile, every West Virginian who pays an electricity bill is increasingly subsidizing the costs to keep an aging, polluting fleet of uneconomic coal-fired power plants online.

Look no further than your rapidly rising electric bill for proof: Residential electricity rates in West Virginia have increased over 90% on average since 2005.

The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund launched on Nov. 4 to help the region’s schools, hospitals, manufacturers and other commercial, nonprofit and government entities take control of their energy costs by going solar. We do this by providing grants and technical assistance to help otherwise viable solar projects clear economic and political hurdles unique to Central Appalachia, so they can start generating clean, renewable power and local economic benefits.

We expect the first phase of the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund to jump-start 64 solar projects in the region, helping local communities, businesses and civic organizations to save $5.4 million in energy costs.

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This initial investment, made possible by a $1.5 million ARC POWER Initiative award and leveraged by other philanthropic support, is expected to create 282 jobs, catalyze $7.9 million in private investment, spur the construction of 4.9 megawatts of new solar energy projects and offset more than 6,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

While we’re excited that the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund will help more Appalachian communities transition to renewable energy, the truth is, West Virginia needs much more support to become a leader in the solar industry and the 21st-century jobs it provides. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., can ensure that West Virginia gets that support.

The Build Back Better Act invests $55 billion annually over the next 10 years into projects that will put West Virginians to work creating America’s energy infrastructure for the coming century, while helping more of us save money on our power bills with solar.

The bill extends the popular solar investment tax credits, making solar 30% more affordable for folks who owe enough in taxes to take advantage of these credits. Especially exciting is that the bill also levels the playing field for people with lower incomes who don’t owe enough in taxes to take advantage of a credit.

The Build Back Better Act also includes the 48C Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credit to spark business investment in manufacturing facilities that produce clean energy technologies. A portion of these tax credits is set aside for communities where coal mines have closed or where coal-fired power plants have recently retired.

The bill also incentivizes revitalization of existing domestic manufacturing industries, such as steel, cement and aluminum, and makes major investments in forestry, soil conservation and agriculture that will create jobs while helping communities prepare for flooding, drought and fire.

The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund is one part of a much larger solution. We are delighted to help communities and businesses across Central Appalachia move needed solar projects forward and to play a role in creating positive economic change. But we need Manchin to leverage his power to move us all forward: We need him to vote yes for the Build Back Better Act.

Autumn Long is project manager for the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund.

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