CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Just four years ago, solar power got little recognition as a viable alternative to mainstream energy.
"There wasn't something you could consider an 'industry,'" said Colin Williams, the vice president of marketing and sales of Mountain View Solar. "There were very few people who had installed systems, but there was little in the way of industry."
Things have changed.
Experts say solar power is now one of the fastest-growing industries in America, with a total capacity of 1,992 megawatts, enough to power one million homes, according to data from the Solar Energies Industry Association.
With increasing demand, the prices of raw material and installations are plummeting. In 2011 alone, the average price of a solar panel has dropped 58 percent. The price drop and the hiked demand has put a strain on oversees manufacturers, according to the SEIA.
Williams said that since 2009, Mountain View Solar has installed solar systems on 200 homes in the state, along with a bevy of government buildings -- some as part of projects funded out of the federal stimulus.
"Our company has grown from three people in 2009 to 25 full-time employees," he said. "And you know they're good-paying jobs."
Mountain View Solar started as a custom homebuilders company 20 years ago, Williams said. They switched to a model that focused on renewable energy systems in 2006.
In 2011, Mountain View Solar installed 84 solar panels on the wastewater plant in Hurricane. Town officials said that the 20-kilowatt panels, which are visible from Interstate 64, are expected to shave $1,000 a month off the power bill.
"Our plant costs the city a lot of money -- around $15,000 a month -- to operate," city manager Ben Newhouse said at the time.
The installation marked the first time that solar panels were built on a West Virginia wastewater plant, Williams has said.
And the city didn't have to pay a dime, thanks to a $193,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which was part of a larger $9.5 million energy conservation block grant awarded to West Virginia.
The grant also funded other solar projects, including 25-kilowatt panels on the Morgan County Courthouse, 19-kilowatt panels on the municipal building in Man, and a 4-kilowatt system on the Beach Bottom village municipal building.