Posted: December 7, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Every day, rain or snow, Nickolas Hein rides his bike more than 15 miles from his home in the Cheat Lake area to downtown Morgantown.

Hein works for Positive Spin, a local nonprofit dedicated to what he calls green transportation: biking, walking, carpooling or taking the bus.   He says biking is one of the most energy efficient forms of transportation and is much better for the environment than driving. A four mile bicycle trip keeps about 15 pound of pollutants out of the air, he notes.

Hein is among a growing number of Morgantown residents who are working to make the city a more environmentally friendly place. They are acutely aware that going green will not be easy given the heavy influence of the energy industry in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia. The city itself is home to a polluting coal-powered plant along the Monongalia River, and gas companies are just beginning to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus shale, generating concern about water and air pollution.

The Book Exchange located on Patteson Drive in Morgantown makes extensive use of solar panels for electricity.

“One of the biggest obstacles is changing people’s mind frames and habits,” says Aaron Sutch, Energy Program Manager of the Mountain Institute, an organization that aids the conservation of mountain communities.

Sutch and the Mountain institute have teamed up with the Morgantown Green Team, another nonprofit dedicated to greener living, to start reducing Morgantown’s carbon footprint. Conserving the amount of electricity area residents use is one step; putting up solar panels on the roofs of residential and commercial buildings is another important step toward reducing the city’s dependence on fossil fuels for electricity and heat. In fact, the Book Exchange in Evansdale is home to the largest solar panel installation in West Virginia; it uses them to power the store.

Biking or taking public transportation is another crucial path to a greener city.  According to Sutch, 28 percent of the green house gas emissions in the U.S. come from the transportation sector. Motor vehicles account for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as being the globe’s leading petroleum user.

Convincing people to make green choices is not easy, particularly in a state so heavily dependent on fossil fuel extraction for jobs and economic stability.

Education is key to change, Sutch says.  So the Mountain Institute created Green Nights in the Library, a public informational session offered once a month, to help educate the local community on environmentally friendly choices.

He notes that that public transportation in Morgantown is often overlooked, as driving is quicker and less of a headache for many students. Both the university’s Public Rapid Transit (PRT) and the Mountain Line bus system are working to improve their reliability as alternative transport. The Mountain Line buses now travel more than 900,000 miles per year.

For those who must use a car, there are options to big gas-guzzling vehicles. Electric cars are becoming cheaper and more reliable every year.  Dr. Chuck Mullett is a local owner of a Chevy Volt, which is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.  The Volt can go 39 miles per charge and it takes 10 hours to fully charge. Mullet, who works at Ruby Memorial Hospital, says the electric car is perfect for him since he has a short commute. He drives to work each day, and charges the car every night.

Solar panels in use.

“I haven’t paid for gas in over a month,” Mullett says.“It is perfect for those short commutes, but if I need to go further and I’m out of charge, the gas back-up kicks in.

While electric cars can be expensive, there are a few ways to save money.  By using electric vehicles, Mullett says you can save up to $750-$1200 on gas each year. There are also tax incentives available for electric car owners. The federal tax credit is $7,500 and West Virginia is one of only eight states to offer a state tax credit of an additional $7,500 for buying an electric car.

“The thing I love most about my Volt, is that it is just a fun car to drive,” Mullett says. “Every other car out there, you waste gas to increase your speed and lose that gas as soon as you hit the brakes; in a Volt you are actually recharging your battery every time you hit the brakes.”

According to Mike McKechnie, President of Mountain View Solar, electric cars need to be charged for long periods of time and require a lot of electricity to do so. Solar panels on your house could help with that problem, McKechnie says.

If electric car owners put solar panels on their homes, they would be able to generate enough electricity to power their cars for over 10,000 miles per year. Solar panels can cost two to three dollars per watt. This means a 100- watt panel will cost between $200- $300. Although the initial cost of solar panels is high, the average return on investment is only five to six years, according to McKechnie.

There are ways to become green without breaking the bank. Conserving electricity use — by turning lights whenever possible — or walking to work on a nice day is a start, Sutch says.

“Of course we don’t all have the money to go out and buy a new Prius or the Volt electric car,” he says. “This is all about making small changes in our daily life and spreading awareness that there are alternatives out there.”