Aug. 05, 2022
Sphere Solar | Outreach, Uncategorized

Suquamish Solar Celebration

Sphere Solar Energy | Poulsbo, WA / July 12, 2022

The Suquamish tribe has taken decisive action to address the global climate crisis with the completion of a 68-panel solar array atop its Family and Friend’s community building. Installed by Sphere Solar Energy, the 32.6 kW system will produce about 30,000 kWh of clean, zero-emissions electricity annually – equivalent to powering three average-sized homes, or taking about four gasoline-run cars off the road, or even charging 2.5 million smartphones! The electricity generated by the solar array will account for more than 75% of the center’s usage, resulting in a significantly lower electric bill – cost savings that can be passed on to services benefiting the Suquamish community.

 

Figure 1: Solar panel array on the roof of the Suquamish Family and Friends Center

In July the Suquamish tribe held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the adoption of the solar power system, drawing over 90 tribal members. WA state Senator Christina Rolfes, as well as staff from Sphere Solar Energy and Puget Sound Energy gathered for the celebration. The festivities began with blessings chanted to a rousing drum beat. Then a delicious lunch was served featuring Native American fry bread.

Figure 2: Fresh Fry bread, made from scratch by the Price brothers

Clean Energy Career Exploration

The transition to a clean energy future is spurring a growing demand for solar professionals. As part of its commitment to creating equitable access to clean energy jobs, Sphere Solar Energy provided hands-on educational activities to learn about solar mechanics and career pathways. At stations staffed by the Sphere team, tribal members had the opportunity to examine photovoltaic components up close, see how the wires connect, and practice turning on lights directly from a solar panel.

Figure 3: Sphere Solar Energy senior electrician, Peter Brandes discussing electrical career pathways.

Sphere Solar professionals ranging from electricians to project managers were on hand to share their work experience and offer guidance on how to get qualified for rewarding jobs in the clean energy sector. Sphere Solar Energy was fortunate to have their design consultant, John Jones, who also happens to be a member of the Suquamish tribe, onsite to demonstrate how he evaluates a roof for solar potential and describe other aspects of his job.

Figure 4: John Jones, Sphere Solar Energy design consultant and Suquamish tribe member discusses solar potential on a home’s roof.

Equitable Access to Clean Electricity

Figure 5: WA state Senator Christine Rolfes addresses the need for clean energy career pathway outreach.

It was inspiring that so many young tribal members were concerned about climate change and interested in job opportunities in clean energy. Sustainable power is also part of the curriculum at Chief Kitsap Academy, and at a nearby table, the science teacher, Mr. Hayden, displayed “solar suitcases” that the students had built. While the event had a decidedly STEM focus, Native American artist Deborah Morning Owl was present to sketch elegant portraits to the delight of the solar celebration attendees.

After lunch, Suquamish Tribal Council Chairman Leonard Forsman summoned the group to gather for the ceremony. The Chairman described the tribe’s longstanding commitment to protecting local natural resources and cited the new solar array as a testament to their efforts to reduce carbon emissions for the benefit of the planet.

Washington State Senator Christine Rolfes spoke about the approach of combining an event to mark the inception of a community-based solar project with clean energy job education. “For me this mingling of… professionals who know how to install solar panels and young people who might think of this as a career path… is a very exciting way to celebrate solar panels on a community building.”

Figure 6: Edwin Wanji, CEO and founder of Sphere Solar Energy, conveys his commitment to an equitable transition to a clean energy future.

Sphere Solar Energy’s founder and CEO, Edwin Wanji added, “Our goal is to make clean energy solutions accessible to all, and with our solar demonstrations create opportunities for project-based learning that will allow more engagement with students and the broader community.”

Heather Mulligan, Renewable Energy Programs Manager at Puget Sound Energy, emphasized how the savings in electric bills could be used to serve community needs.

Afterwards there was a traditional musical performance featuring the enchanting voices of some of the younger members of the tribe.  Then the ribbon was cut and trays of cupcakes were passed around.

 

Community-Driven Solar

Figure 7: Suquamish tribal members drum and chant a blessing.

While this is the Suquamish tribe’s first solar endeavor, the idea of producing clean electricity onsite was not new. Vicki Cole, the Suquamish Housing ProgramManager, was involved in the early stages of the project and remarked, “the tribal council had been asking about solar for several years.”  When a grant opportunity arose to fund a solar array through Puget Sound Energy, “the tribal council championed the effort.” said Vicki, adding, “Sphere Solar Energy and Puget Sound Energy were very helpful in guiding us through the process”

 

Figure 8: Young Suquamish singers perform at the solar celebration.

When the grant was approved, the Sphere Solar Energy team set about planning the project. Once the components were delivered and the team in place, the solar array system was completed in less than a week.

A strong sense of community permeated the event – family and friends of all ages, clearly well acquainted, sharing a meal, singing together, connecting. Sphere Solar Energy deeply appreciated the tribe’s gracious hospitality. For several Sphere employees, it was their first time trying fry bread – and the verdict was unanimous. Absolutely delicious! Sphere Solar Energy was honored to play a role in the Squamish tribe’s efforts to produce a sustainable source of energy and is grateful for their outstanding environmental stewardship.