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Solar District
Posted by David Levine on Jan 7, 2015
A biologist shares how solar energy spread virally through this close-knit community.

Nestled on the banks of the Potomac River in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, Shepherdstown is a haven for artists, scientists, academics, federal workers, craftsmen, farmers, lawyers and software developers. It's also a case study on the social dynamics of solar energy. It appears the outbreak of solar in Shepherdstown, now reaching the status of a pandemic, began with Nathaniel ('Than') Hitt, a research biologist studying the effects of climate change on stream ecosystems the Appalachian Highlands for the US Geological Survey. Than understood the environmental and economic benefits of solar energy and put solar panels on his roof, after a brief struggle with the town over zoning and historic preservation. Because the back of his home faces an alley, rather than the street, the town council eventually approved the installation. Soon afterwards, neighbors up and down the alley began to consider solar. Than and his wife Mary Anne, a Sierra Club executive working on the Beyond Coal campaign, encouraged this interest at social gatherings and events around town. Soon afterwards, neighbors up and down the alley put up solar panels to harvest the plentiful sunlight. And that, my friends, is the story of how this little town, known fondly as 'Mayberry on Acid,' came to have a Solar District.

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