Pastor plans Appalachian outreach with solar panels

Nonprofit helps homeowners install cost-saving devices
February 26, 2012 12:28 pm
  • 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.
    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.
    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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Their system is as unlikely as the paths they took to this town of 2,700 people: Mr. Seaman hitchhiked here as an aimless teenager who accepted a ride from a black revivalist preacher, and Mr. Prusa chose the quiet countryside after fleeing a ditch-digging fate in Communist Europe.

Now New Vision wants to build a national network of community teams that bring solar panels to the unlikeliest of places -- towns where renewable sources often are seen as anti-patriotic or as a way for tree-hugging elitists to pat themselves on the back.

All of this Philippi story -- the microfinancing, the national network, the business savvy -- started with the unlikeliest concept of all: that these two men could go 30 years without getting to know one another in this 31-square-mile town, until one day when Mr. Seaman picked up his daughter from a home where the electric meter spins backward.

Energy independence

John Prusa was a tinkerer. When a triple bypass grounded his piloting career, his hobby of engineering renewable energy sources became "a major obsession," he said.

With his son and a stepladder, Mr. Prusa outfitted his home with solar panels that capture the sun's rays and pipes that heat water with it. He converted his cars so they run on vegetable oil left over from fast-food friers. He powers a Jacuzzi with solar panels.

"When the gasoline went from 89 cents to 99 cents, I knew we were in deep trouble," he said. "And that's when I decided I'm going to be totally independent, energy-wise."

Mr. Prusa's father in Czechoslovakia was a Baptist minister, an occupation that predestined the son to a life of ditch-digging in the oppressive state. He fled to America in 1976.

"That independence, breaking off the system that I was born into and raised -- there was no way out of it," he said. "You could not become independent."

His energy inventions started going up eight years ago and eliminated electric bills and trips to the gas station, but it only served his house on the hill and the few neighbors he could convert.

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.
First Published 2012-02-25 23:35:48

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