When Meters Spin Backwards

Thoughts from Abbie Weeks and Jeff Boyce

-Abbie Weeks-

Today we put up the last of the solar panels on Mr. Conquering Bear’s house and finished a project that began as soon as I returned from Uganda last summer.

I can’t help but smile remembering the moment the solar panels were live and began to generate electricity. All of the team was gathered around the meter and, as miraculously as working against gravity, it spun backwards; energy was going back into the grid.

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Often times, environmental conservation works feels just like that: like working against gravity: as if pursuing sustainability means pushing back at some unstoppable force of economics or some inevitable path for our planet.

But this solar installation on Pine Ridge is another piece of evidence that the protection of our planet and the prosperity of our species are simultaneously attainable. Solar works. Renewable energy is a realistic solution.

This trip to Pine Ridge was full of not only incredible memories and people, but of a sense of community and purpose. Late night campfires and games of Frisbee strengthened friendships and created utter joy. Meetings with the Pine Ridge Housing Authority, lessons from the Solar Corps team at Grid Alternatives, and stories from local tribal members, strengthened my sense of purpose, and created profound awe.

I have graduated high school, and the EcoAction chapter at Cherry Creek High School will be passed on to new student leadership. Yet the experiences I have had working with communities towards affordable and sustainable energy are already writing the next years of my life. How lucky am I to have met so many kindred souls, to have traveled across the world and the United States, and to have the support of my community in this incredible adventure. I want to thank Jeff Boyce: teacher, mentor, and incredible human being for his undying support of my dreams. He helped me make so many of them come true.

There is always a finality to the closing of one chapter and the beginning of the next, but I have no doubt that EcoAction and you, reader, will defy gravity and continue to fulfill our responsibility to our planet and each other. We need action and activists now more than ever.

Best of luck, and my immense gratitude to each and every person I have met so far on this journey.

All my love,

Abbie Weeks

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-Jeff Boyce-

I became an environmental scientist because I care about this beautiful planet that we share. I became a teacher because it is future generations that will need to solve the problems that we collectively face.

The PV install in Pine Ridge was complete when the net electricity meter slowed down and reversed direction. This was the moment that the 3 roof arrays consisting of 21 individual panels came online and began producing more electricity than the home was consuming.

This installation of this 7.2 kW system marks a decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide that is released by the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity. This system will generate approximately 15,000 kWh of electricity per year. The Nebraska Power Association generates electricity for Pine Ridge and uses coal for almost 65% of that electricity. A single kWh of electricity from coal releases 1.2 pounds of carbon dioxide. This install represents a decrease of just less than 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

This is real change. We don’t to need to wait for people in Washington to legislate change, we need to educate people and change how we approach our consumptive lifestyles.

I want to thank Grid Alternatives for allowing us to partner with them. This trip changed the lives of my students and opened my eyes to the power of learning outside the classroom. The folks at Grid went out of their way to educate, to engage and empower my students each and every day. They are true “Solar Warriors”!

IMG_1091Riley Weeks and Abbie Weeks Sending up the last of the solar panels_MG_1704

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Robin, Abbie, and Lina

 

Solar Panels to the Roof!

Wednesday Roof Team: Claire

Hey everyone, I’m Claire.

A few of us woke up early for the sunrise gleaming over the lake we’re camping by, and it was breathtaking. The lake was calm and clouds bright pink. The clouds blew in and rained and rained, so the day started a little later than anticipated.

We got to Conquering Bear’s house around nine but lightning kept us from working on the roof at first so we tested and recorded the open circuit voltage (VOC) of each solar panel to ensure the whole system would be generating as much electricity as possible once installed.

GHTG8774Eventually we got up onto the roof around 11am. We worked in two teams on different sections in the house. Boyce, Nick (Solar Corps), Lina, and I installed nine solar panels onto the East side of the house and four on the West side. Which was pretty easy once you got the hang of it. A little muscle heaved the panels from the ground onto the roof and Lina and I helped straighten them out and bolt them in place. On the West side, the rest of the roof team worked on getting the rails up for more panels to sit on. After lunch we regrouped to work on running conduit (for the wires) from the different junction boxes (from the panels) to combine them into one box. Tomorrow we have to attach eight solar panels (on the West side) and fish the wires through the conduit. Other than that we nearly done!

 

Crawlspace Mornings

While the roof team may seem to have all the glory of installation to themselves, the ground team does merit some appreciation. Although the solar panels are placed on the roof, as well as the microinverters in this install, the electricity generated by the panels must be fed into the main service panel (an electric box) located in the back of Mr. Conquering Bear’s house. On the ground this morning I worked with Riley, Allan, and team supervisor Austin, in the crawlspace. We dropped the grounding wire down from the back room into the crawl space but the wire wouldn’t fit into the conduit at first so we had to bend new wires and try and fit it into the awkward space between the wall and insulation. The power is off to the home to prevent electrocution as we handle the wiring, so we were without lights in the crawlspace save a flashlight.

 

 

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Austen wearing an arc flash suit to avoid potential electrocution while working on the main service panel

 

Eventually we got all the wiring in place so that when the panels are active, they will directly power the home!

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In the afternoon we fed wires up to the roof that would connect the arrays and finalize the connections. Tomorrow we will finish the instal!

 

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Riley places Caution sticker on electrical box

 

 

 

 

Lakota Solar and Henry Red Cloud

Today we had the honor of visiting Lakota Solar Enterprises, a company started by Henry Red Cloud. Lakota Enterprises is a native-owned solar company that produces solar heating units and provides green job training to help the community attain energy sovereignty.

Mr. Red Cloud led us around Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), “where Native Americans from around the country come to receive hands-on training in renewable energy applications from fellow Native American trainers. RCREC’s facilities also include demonstration solar air furnaces, a solar electric system, straw bale home demonstration sites, a wind turbine, green houses and garden, buffalo from the Red Cloud herd, and wind break and shade trees. In addition to educating about the benefits of renewable energy, RCREC’s workshops are creating green jobs for residents of Pine Ridge, as well as visiting trainees from other tribes. As tribal leaders learn how to incorporate sustainable technology into housing plans, employment training, and energy strategies, the impact will increase exponentially.” (from Lakota Enterprises)

We toured his workshop, sustainable farm, a straw bale house, and a portable solar trailer that he brought to the Standing Rock protests. Mr. Red Cloud is a passionate, kindred soul. His deep care for his community and for the land we live on is obvious in how he speaks. He discussed with us current affairs, the rights of Native Americans, and the inherent responsibility of all to take care of our earth. On the day we met Mr. Red Cloud he had spent the day planting thousands of pine seedlings. He is truly a pioneer and icon in his field.

From Lakota Enterprises

“For more than a decade, Henry has devoted himself to developing his expertise with renewable energy applications that are environmentally sound, economically beneficial, and culturally appropriate. Today, Henry is a twenty-first century Lakota Warrior, bringing green technology and employment to Native American communities. He reminds tribes that they can live sustainably and shows them that by embracing clean, renewable energy applications there is a way to get back to a traditional relationship with Mother Earth. As Henry says, “This is a new way to honor the old ways.””

 

 

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Roof Team May 30th Robin Tutchton

 

 

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Standing there with a line attached to my back and an harness that was too tight in the wrong places,  I watched as a man I had just met demonstrated pulling up shingles and sliding in a metal plate with a silver rectangle with a hole in the top into the shingles. The metal plate, called flashing, would be bolted into the rafters and serve as a reliable mount for the solar panels. 

My first thought was “oh please don’t make me do that I won’t be able to.”

But then I realized they needed help measuring out the area of the array. I volunteered to help measure out 48 inches between each chalk dot and 24 inches for the last distance. I nailed it, measuring perfectly and handling the tape measure with such elegance that it made the birds stop and stare.

But ruining my “on Top of the world” feeling we were called to lunch. Furiously I swallowed my mustard, ham and cheese sandwich and soon enough was standing back at the top of the ladder waiting to be clipped into my child safety leash.

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We spent the next hours pulling up shingles and flashing them, once that was done, we’d install the brackets and bolt it into place and put on a washer and rubber stopper on top.  Next I descended from my perch up above and began to help assemble rails that the solar panels would rest on. We then took the rails and carried them up to the roof. We then bolted in the rails and began to attach the inverters. First we wired up the rails by placing a cord and nailing it to the metal. Then we took  inverters and screwed them in above the cord, and then at last we plugged them into the wire. Once that was done we looked around and saw that two arrays had been completed, this startled me because I was in such a trance of work. After feeling successful with being able to do the task I drove us back to camp – where we all slept gloriously.

 

Ground Team May 30th Riley Weeks

Hey again! It’s Riley (If you don’t know who I am, check out my other blog posts towards the bottom of this page)! As I write this, I am sitting in the car with the door open and the breeze blowing through, listening to the sounds of cranking wrenches and steady drills on the roof of Mr.Conquering Bear’s and his family’s home. So far (its only 12:39 as a write this), it has been an awe-inspiring, productive work-day, which sounds far-fetched, but is honestly the truth! Let me back up though, I am getting ahead of myself. Yesterday, after our cultural meeting with Mr.Doyle, we drove down, following Mr. Boyce’s incredibly green and hippie-screaming Westfalia van, to the property where we were to spend the next three days installing solar panels. Honestly, I was clueless. Not just about the difference between AC disconnect and junction boxes, or where and how to saw conduit, but also what the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation was like and how the community works together to find solutions to energy issues.

 

But, in both these fields, I was learning, and fast. I was not expecting to do much work on the first day, as we didn’t start until 11:30ish after our cultural training. However, I figured out that we would be doing a lot. There was work to do just on the ground, not even related to the solar modules on the roof. I volunteered to drill holes, screw bolts, place conduit, and even go underneath the house in the crawl space to ensure that all of the wiring that we would eventually complete would have a secure place to go without the risk damage to the wires through water runoff or friction from other things near it. At the beginning of the day, I was afraid to ask questions of the trained professionals I was working with through GRID Alternatives. I figured they had a lot on their plates, worrying about where and when to place the solar panels as well as all of the other components to make the system work. But, I eventually understood that these trained professionals wanted to teach us about what they were doing, and wanted us to be as hands on as possible. It was incredible to be able to ask all the questions I wanted and after a while, I was able to really understand what we were doing throughout the day, and what the end result was bound to look like. When the sun had just begun to sink over the rolling hills in the distance of the Reservation, the only clear work that I had completed was a metal pole on the side of the house, with a box sticking out the end of it. To some, it might have been just that: a box on a pole, but to me, it signified the beginning of an amazing solar install to help an amazing veteran and his family live in their home with reliable, sustainable, and affordable electricity. For me, Day One on the ground was a job well done.

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Day 2 The Work Begins!

IMG_1527Hi all! Lina Krueck here, reporting from Pine Ridge, South Dakota and Chadron, Nebraska bringing you more exciting coverage of the Pine Ridge Eco Action Solar Panel Install Trip! Day One was just the beginning to an even more exciting Day TWO! Tuesday was the day the real adventure began in Pine Ridge, starting with the Cultural Orientation led by Mr. Doyle at the Oglala Lakota Housing Authority office just at the southern end of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

That morning, the 7 of us kids who slept in the large tent woke up around 8 to the lovely sound of birds chirping. When we emerged from the tent, we began preparing for the day. Tooth brushes, socks, sweatshirts, and water bottles were all being used, changed, and filled throughout the campsite, while water boiled on the stove. We had coffee and oatmeal for our “healthy and balanced” camping breakfast. Finally, we hit the road towards Pine Ridge around 8:45.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on our way to the reservation. I was nervous. Being a Native American who grew up in middle class Denver, Colorado where I never had to worry about not having a house or food on the table made me feel guilty. I have lived such a comfortable and sheltered life and I’ve never had to go through what many Natives have while living on the reservation. As we drove further and further into the reservation, I saw run down houses and cars. People were walking down the streets smoking. Dogs were running around covered in ticks. I felt a surge of anger rush over me because people shouldn’t have to live like this.

The good news is that people like us who partner with the people at companies like GRID Alternatives (who are absolutely wonderful, by the way) are striving to make a difference for Native people. I hope that some day clean energy is the number one way that reservations like Pine Ridge power their lives.

When I first saw the house we would be installing on, I was definitely surprised. It looked slightly newer than most other houses in the area. Mr. Doyle talked about how the housing authority is working to build new houses, so it made me happy to see that the house wasn’t run down and old.

Everyone I’ve talked to so far about our project and solar has been very excited about it! I think a lot of people here have a great mindset, they think positively and know that clean energy is the way to go, and that’s why we’re here. To lower the cost of their bills, while also helping the planet!

I’m proud that the tribe is doing everything they can to try to live better lives, thanks to the work of the people at the housing authority and our help with GRID. I had a good feeling as we began to install that cleaner energy is going to make its way through Pine Ridge to benefit many people, and hopefully we can share our knowledge of solar with many others so that the world can be a greener place