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Siskiyou Field Institute Now Harvests Solar Energy for Education

SFI's solar arrays under construction.
Solar installation
On July 13 at high noon, Siskiyou Field Institute flipped its electric meter into generating mode thanks to a brand new solar energy system made possible by Pacific Power’s Blue Sky renewable energy customers. The Selma-based environmental education non profit will officially cut the ribbon on the solar project Sunday afternoon, October 21, at 1:00 p.m. The public is invited to SFI’s Solar Celebration, which will include tours of the solar installation, fun activities revolving around the solar system, live musical entertainment, and free treats plus local wine and beer.
 
Siskiyou Field Institute received a Blue Sky Grant of $99,960 to complete installation of seven pole-mounted 12-panel solar arrays on the north side of its Deer Creek Center facility. It was the largest Blue Sky grant awarded to a non profit in 2017. Oregon SolarWorks, based in Rogue River, completed the construction during a five-week process. The 25.2kW grid-tied system will eventually generate about 55% of electricity needs for the Institute’s educational and lodging facilities.

Fun at Sun Camp

A week after SFI converted to solar energy, 33 middle schoolers from Josephine County schools plus some students from as far away as Portland attended SFI’s first-ever solar energy camp to learn how the sun’s energy can empower technology. A collaborative partnership of the College and Career 4 All/ STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) hub, which includes partners Rogue Community College, Southern Oregon Educational School Districts and local communities, provided scholarships for the kids to attend.

Oregon SolarWorks owner Kirpal Khalsa spoke to the middle schoolers about how the SFI system was installed and explained the inverter control box that converts alternating current to direct current. Khalsa received his own solar education through San Juan Community College in Farmington, New Mexico. After several years in sales with Energy Outfitters in Grants Pass, Khalsa went to work for Kerry Whitehead, former owner of Renewable Energy Systems, LLC. Since becoming a licensed solar technician in 2010, he has continued to be active in solar industry-wide education. When Whitehead retired in 2014, Khalsa purchased the business and renamed it Oregon Solarworks.

Solar Camp kids also studied the sun’s layered atmosphere and learned about the August 21st solar eclipse. Each received a pair of eclipse safety glasses for viewing the sun. Students made solar ovens and cooked solar s’mores in them. Solar site design and model houses educated them in applying solar angles to maximize efficiency in house and solar installation planning.
 
Students constructed their own solar system pocket models in scale with interplanetary distances. SFI Ropes Course exercises had kids imagining what it would be like to live on planets with varying season lengths, such as Saturn’s seven-year –and Mars’ seven month seasonal cycles. The moon also inspired learning. Kids studied lunar phases and had fun with a moon craters exercise in which moons were constructed of flour with cocoa powder dropped on them to simulate craters. The Grants Pass Astronomy Club set its digital telescope on the sun and students were able to view coronal loops. As night approached, they looked at the Milky Way and learned to identify constellations. Local astronomer Joe Stodola talked about careers in geophysics.

Allie Rosenbluth from RogueClimate presented a program on climate and how climate change may impact Rogue Valley communities and local climate action plans that are currently being considered and enacted in Ashland and Talent.

A final Solar Science Symposium gave parents a chance to see their kids shine with newly acquired solar knowledge as they presented their projects.
 

Moving toward a brighter future

As Blue Sky representatives cut the ribbon on SFI’s new solar project, the 19-year-old Institute enters a new era for outdoor education. SFI’s Executive Director Robin Hartmann states “At our Deer Creek Center, we want our facility operations to align with SFI’s conservation and education mission. This project, and our recent insulation improvements, will allow us lead by example. We’re looking forward to engaging students from our community in learning how the power of the sun can be harnessed and how science, math and an understanding of our environment can be put to work to improve our future.” She adds, “The savings that SFI will reap from this renewable energy project can be used instead on adult and youth educational programs, including on our Siskiyou Outdoor School -- a four-day, science-based residential camp offered each spring and fall for every 5th or 6th grader in the Illinois Valley and beyond.”



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