Ben Tatum grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia. Having always enjoyed outdoor adventure, after several rock climbing trips to the Gorge, he and his girlfriend Stephanie Smith began to look into moving to the area.
After purchasing a piece of property in Pine Ridge, near Campton, Kentucky, they had an idea for one of the old buildings on the land. The building once served the historic Pine Ridge Post Office, and it seemed like the perfect backstory for an Airbnb.
Working for many months to fix up the property, in 2020, they officially listed the Mail House for short term rental. Several months later, Ben added solar modules to the roof.
Throughout 2020, Ben was employed as a Mountain Association New Energy Intern, where he learned about all things solar and energy efficiency. His internship covered everything from performing blower door tests to assess leaks, to checking insulation levels, and even installing an efficient mini split heat pump in the Mail House. With help from the Mountain Association energy team, Ben applied to the USDA Rural Energy for America Program to receive grant funding of $2,500 to help pay for the new solar panels.
After he graduated from the internship program, Ben launched his business, Appalachian EnergyWorks, in January 2021. Because the Gorge is a hot bed for tourism, there is a lot of investment property and a growing interest in solar due to the potential return on investment, as well as a way to provide an “offgrid” experience for visitors. His business has a focus on solar installation and assisting clients with federal grant applications, but also offers energy efficiency services.
“I see that the future of energy conservation will inevitably lead to mass retrofitting of homes and businesses with solar capabilities. I am positioning myself to be at the forefront of this movement as it begins to unfold,” Ben said.
“Learning more of the benefits and cost savings of solar energy has surprised me – how even those on a tight budget can reap the benefits of solar energy savings through organizations like the Mountain Association.”
Ben continues to work closely with the Mountain Association as a contractor. He has helped several other area businesses apply for USDA grants that could bring as much as $75,000 to support $300,000 of solar investments by businesses in and around his neighborhood in Powell and Wolfe Counties.
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