Cherokee delving into solar energy

by Dec 2, 2011Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments




                If you drive by the back of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation building on Monday, Dec. 12, you may ask yourself, “what are they putting on that building?” 

A total of 14 solar panels set atop the Ginger Lynn Welch Complex and heat the pool at the Cherokee Life Center. The Cherokee Preservation Foundation is having 14 panels installed at one of its back buildings starting Monday, Dec. 12. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather)

                Well, they’re solar panels. 

                The Foundation is having 14 solar panels installed on the back of their building in an effort to go green and to spread the word locally about the potential for solar energy.  FLS Energy, a solar energy systems installer based in Asheville, will install the panels. 

                “It is a viable, green source of energy,” said Daniel Martin, senior program association with the Foundation in charge of environmental sustainability programs.  “Across Native cultures, it is about leaving things how you found it and being at balance with nature and the things around you.  Because of how contemporary culture is, you need to take more advanced steps to create that balance and some of those things are solar cells, windmills, things of that nature.”  

                This initiative is one of several that have arisen out of the Generations Qualla Sustainability Effort, a program started by the Foundation in 2008 to foster environmental improvements on the Qualla Boundary. 

                To date, the Foundation has funded over two million dollars in grants relating to Generations Qualla programs whose focus has been energy efficiency, recycling and establishing green building standards in Cherokee.   

               One initiative funded in the most recent grant cycle in September is for the EBCI Building and Construction program to hire a person to coordinate and implement the Tribe’s Strategic Energy Plan.  The plan was developed after the Tribe received a grant in 2007 from the U.S. Department of Energy. 

                “Taking care of the environment is really the essence of Cherokee and other tribes when you look at things,” said Susan Jenkins, Foundation executive director.  “But, we also have some resources that other communities don’t.  It is a little more expensive at first, but, in the long run it’s the thing to do.”

                She said it is her hope that the use of solar energy will spread throughout Cherokee and believes that it will be a draw to the community.  “I think people would come and want to be in a community that is really conscious and not just talking about it but actively involved in good stewardship.” 

                The Foundation building isn’t the first in Cherokee to get solar panels.  The Ginger Lynn Welch Complex was fitted with 14 solar panels earlier in the year that are used to heat the pool at the Cherokee Life Center.

                “Since heating the water is a major expense in any building (residential or commercial), we wanted to help reduce the cost operation and maintenance at the Ginger Lynn Welch Complex,” said Brandon Stephens, Deputy Housing Officer who said future plans include adding more panels. 

                “In the summer, the panels could potentially heat up to almost 400 degrees,” he said.  “On a winter day, it was 27 degrees and cloudy and the panels heated to 128 degrees.”

                According to Martin, several other buildings are slated for solar panels including the Cherokee Welcome Center, the Boundary tree visitor’s center and the downtown visitor’s center. 

                Part of the EBCI strategic energy plan has been to conduct energy audits at tribal buildings to look for ways to cut costs and save energy in the process. 

                Two Climate Corps Fellows from the Environmental Defense Fund were in Cherokee over the summer helping with the audits. 

                “We are working to make the tribal buildings and the reservation as sustainable and energy efficient as possible,” Erin Evans told the One Feather in June.  “At the end of these audits, recommendations are given on how to help improve the energy consumption and what the payback period for making these improvements would be as well as the overall energy and monetary savings that can be achieved.”