“What is that on your roof?” That’s the question Tim Thomas, executive director of the Oasis of Hope Center, expects people to ask when they see the nonprofit’s new solar array. Thomas envisions it as starting educational conversations about renewable energy at the community center which provides youth services in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma.
Before those conversations could begin, the Oasis of Hope had to overcome the financial challenge of a solar panel installation, which is beyond most nonprofits’ budgets. “Usually, the biggest barrier to entry to solar and clean energy is the upfront cost,” said Edwin Wanji, CEO and founder of Sphere Solar Energy, which completed the project.
Collaboration was the key to funding and implementing the project. As Thomas said, “Bringing partners together is what we do here.” Tacoma Power, nonprofit Spark Northwest, and Sphere Solar Energy joined forces to make the Oasis of Hope’s solar array a reality. Spark Northwest contributed technical assistance, and Tacoma Power provided financial support for the project through its Evergreen Options program, which is made possible by contributions from customers who want to support renewable energy. “One of the cool parts of the program,” said Chris Robinson, Tacoma Power Utilities Director and Deputy Power Superintendent, is that the “customers who fund the program are the ones who actually decide who’s going to get the grant.” The Oasis of Hope’s project, providing solar power for a nonprofit with services for youth, clearly resonated with them.
The Oasis of Hope’s solar array does more than avoid 14.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The reduction in energy bills also benefits the local community. Cost savings go back to the organization, which can “spend those funds on the things that are most important to them,” said Bobby Coleman, board member of Spark Northwest. So the Oasis of Hope’s solar array has an impact that goes beyond the critically important reduction in greenhouse gases. And, as Coleman said, it “provides a beacon in the community to their commitment to renewable energy.”
The new solar array on the Oasis of Hope’s solar array was officially introduced to the community at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 16. All the members of the partnership were there: Thomas of the Oasis of Hope; Wanji, representing Sphere Solar Energy; Spark Northwest’s Bobby Coleman; and, from Tacoma Power, Chris Robinson and Christine Coleman. Their presence was proof of the impact collaboration can have to bring about renewable energy projects that make communities more resilient.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Sphere Solar Energy held a workshop on jobs in the solar sector, complementing the Oasis of Hope’s youth services. Members of the Sphere team shared how solar energy works, explained the fundamentals of the flow of electricity, and used computer mapping tools to assess solar potential on roofs in the area. The younger children gravitated to the hands-on demo where they were able connect the wires from a solar panel directly to a fan and feel the air blowing on them, even as the sunlight began to fade. For older participants, the workshop revealed job pathways that they might not have known about. “The sector is going to continue to grow and provide young people with good, union jobs for years to come.” said Wanji. Thomas also looks forward to talking to young people about careers in clean energy. “Right now,” he said, “the community here doesn’t have a lot of education or experience with renewable energy.” Now, thanks to 66 solar panels and a powerful partnership, it has the opportunity to learn.