Pastor plans Appalachian outreach with solar panels
John Prusa, 57, director of innovation and technology for New Vision Renewable Energy, stands with the solar panels that have helped his Philippi, W.Va., home run on renewable energy.
Mr. Prusa shows Cindy Kelly, a member of Peoples Chapel, how to test LED lights the group is sending to Kenya.
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PHILIPPI, W.Va. -- Ruston Seaman is proud to show off the early version of the solar panels built for his renewable energy mission: two banged-up, discolored shower doors held together by crusty caulking.
"Even if it's chipped a little bit, it still makes electricity," said Mr. Seaman.
John Prusa, the brains behind these solar panels, fastened the doors together so that the power-capturing cells stay off the glass, harnessing sunlight that can be used to generate electricity or heat water.
But no matter how much a set of jerry rigged solar panels might lower the electric bill, discolored shower doors and caulking from Walmart present a problem when it comes to persuading people to put them on their homes: They're ugly.
So now Mr. Seaman and Mr. Prusa shop for better aluminum, better solar glass, even better caulking to build the solar panels they want to make a staple in this Appalachian town two hours south of Pittsburgh. Their organization, New Vision, is a nonprofit affiliated with Mr. Seaman's church and has plans to outfit 10 homes this spring in a town where 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
Supplies must still come cheaply -- the church doesn't have the money to spend and the families who get the panels don't either -- so they shop for discolored inventory, watch for bankruptcy filings that lead to liquidations, think of companies with ample scrap heaps.
"My gut says Alcoa has aluminum stock," said Mr. Seaman.
They've also invented an entire mini-economy on the ridge here that recirculates money among families receiving panels and allows currency to come in the form of volunteer hours.
As these men see it, solar panels eliminate three major expenses: electricity, gas and heat, and pay for themselves in utility savings in less than 10 years.
Mr. Prusa's hobby of invention joined with Mr. Seaman's community outreach to create this new system of ministry, one that sees renewable energy as a means to lower utility bills in Appalachia, and ultimately a means to independence.
First Published 2012-02-25 23:35:48