Good Sun and California Solar Electric Company (Cal Solar) have come together in one shared initiative: provide solar power to Utah’s Place, the only year-round emergency homeless shelter in Nevada County, to offset the costs of operating and increase available resources to those in need.
“When Good Sun and Cal Solar called us and said they wanted to get together to discuss free solar, it was quite the surprise,” recalled Ashley Quadros, development director at Hospitality House, the nonprofit that runs Utah’s Place. “This is an incredible act of goodwill and will be a tremendous benefit to our shelter. Funds we were allocating toward our electric bills will now be redirected to critical needs and services to our most vulnerable community members.”
Good Sun and Cal Solar have combined their resources in order to provide Hospitality House’s shelter with a 40-unit (13.8kW) Sunpower solar panel system, complete with full design, permitting and installation. The entire project is valued over $40,000.
Utah’s Place currently has two meters that supply all electricity to the shelter. The donated solar system will cover 100 percent of the operating costs for one of the meters, a savings of approximately $300 every month with an increase in savings of 5 percent annually projected as PG&E rates increase.
“California Solar brought the prospects of this project to us and we loved the idea right away because of the community collaboration aspect coupled with the mission of helping out needy families,” explained Eric Stikes, founder of Good Sun. “Homelessness is a human issue before it is a political or economical issue. It is an issue, whether we choose to believe it or not, to which no one is immune … and so, we should address the issue from a human perspective with compassion.”
Stikes, himself, is no stranger to homelessness. During his college years, he lived in the back of his Toyota Tacoma while putting himself through engineering school. Though at times he found the experience liberating, he equally found it lonely. “I will never forget the feeling of living on the fringe of society and not having a home; a refuge; a safe place that you can call your own.”
Similarly, Lars Ortegren, co-founder of Cal Solar, also has a close connection to homelessness—a connection that only became steadfast through the years after becoming a volunteer of Hospitality House.
“I was an overnight volunteer for the first five years of Hospitality House when it was a roving shelter,” recalled Ortegren. “On my first day, I recognized one of the guests as my previous bank manager, who had lost his job a couple of months before. He played out his story, one bad circumstance after another broken leg, unable to get a job, evicted from his home, broken down car. It gave me a new perspective on homelessness. We all are a short stack of pink slips away and it can all happen by a few unfortunate events to trigger. Supporting Hospitality House is literally supporting our community and showing that we care about our own.”
Ortegren’s experience helping homeless people first-hand naturally influenced his business model. Over the years he’s hired homeless folks living at Utah’s Place and now he’s working with shelter staff to introduce an apprenticeship program to give even more guests an opportunity at learning engineering to become solar technicians at Cal Solar.
“Cal Solar has an ethical responsibility, like any good local business, to give back to the community that supports us,” he explained, noting he’s been working on bringing solar to Utah’s Place since the doors opened in 2013. “Supporting Hospitality House is supporting our very own community-funded social safety net and the most vulnerable population in our community, the homeless. We believe that in supporting Hospitality House and its programs, we are supporting a stronger community by ‘lifting up’ the people who are most in need.”
Stikes is in full agreement with his counterpart. His nonprofit has diligently devoted many months toward procuring the necessary equipment for the project, and as recently as last week, Good Sun was able to extend the system from originally 35 solar panels to 40 panels through increased fundraising efforts.
“To us, what Hospitality House does for the community is unique and very important,” explained Stikes. “It is precisely the sort of organization that we set out to help when we formed our nonprofit …We hope that these savings can be reinvested to further the shelter’s mission and we’re excited that the savings investment now will compound in the future as utility rates continue to go up.”
The installation is scheduled to begin on Friday, Sept. 13. Guests of the shelter will have an opportunity to learn about solar and aid the installation. A group of high school students from Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning will also be onsite to volunteer with the install. These students are learning sustainable building, solar and construction through their teacher, Mr. Travis Duckworth, who will also be giving his time.
“This is a perpetual gift,” concluded Nancy Baglietto, executive director of Hospitality House. “Every month we save on electricity expenditures is another month we’ll have increased available resources to help where the need is greatest.”