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Mountaineers Recycle Solar Panels to Save Money, Expand Access

Mountaineers Solar Panels

As part of an Environment & Sustainability (ENVS) capstone class at Western Colorado University, the Equitable Solar Solutions project is Western-born and serving its community with renewable energy and plans to spread throughout Colorado.

The project began when the class was tasked with contributing to the betterment of an environmental cause or sustainable action in the community. Managing the project is Richard Stromberg, an alumnus who graduated with a master’s in Environmental Management.

“The original idea came from Rich Stromberg, who saw an opportunity to do something big.” said Christopher Gooderham, one of the project’s founding students. “The idea was pitched to our class and our group was formed. We all liked the idea and ran with it,” Christopher said.

An Opportunity to Do Something Big

Under Richard’s leadership, Christopher, Maria Agazio, Riley Moser, Avery Tait and Monty Fraser ran a project that has since electrified homes without electricity and produced revenue to install more energy efficient systems in low-income households.

To do this Richard originally sourced 12 120-watt modules manufactured by Kyocera that were being replaced for their dwindling output.

“Solar panels lose about 1% of output per year, meaning they still put out 80% power after 20 years. I didn’t want to waste that.” Richard said.

Addressing Residential Energy Costs

Those original 12 modules were installed at the Jorgenson Park Ice Rink and have generated $500 in savings. Since then, new applications have begun under the new leadership of James Cody. James and the two undergraduate interns, Devin Richardson and Demitra Biddle, work together to address the residential energy cost burden within Gunnison Valley.

“I was previously working on the advocacy side of environmental issues when I began to find myself burning out. While I loved the issues I was fighting for and proper policy is critical to future sustainability efforts, politics move at a slow pace and I wanted to move quicker,” James said.

“Working with the Equitable Solar Solutions project has expanded my knowledge in so many ways. It seems like every time we have a meeting, or we go do some testing work, I always end up learning something new that I didn’t know before. I believe that this was one of the best opportunities for me because after college I am interested in working more with renewable energies. Having this experience has increased my confidence,” Devin said.

Promoting Environmental Sustainability Efforts

“I’ve learned so much. It’s really great to be a part of a project that is helping people and the environment. I’d love to be involved in more projects like this one after college,” Demitra said.

Devin and Demitra learn how solar panels work, how to design solar energy systems and how to finance a project. They also get a chance to work a supervisory role for volunteers or to participate in community outreach events.

“This project gives undergrads the ability to see how you can use free market capitalism to promote environmental sustainability efforts,” James said.

Though the project was started in 2019, it has continued to operate despite the limitations of COVID-19. The project plans to spread to tribal lands in Gunnison County due to their placement on a hierarchy of needs created to benefit those in need most. These tribal lands come first because they are living without electricity and will be followed by those struggling with electricity bills or low-efficiency housing who are unable to pay for improvements.

A Bright Future

The program is made possible through its partnership with the city and funding from the Coldharbor Institute. Richard said the program has experienced enough success that they are looking to spread out to Denver in hopes of helping those in need there as well.

Want to get involved with project like this at Western? Learn more about our Environment and Sustainability major today.


Author Credit: Jamie Rivera

Photo Credit: John McKeith

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