Petaluma homeless shelter expands solar network

The Mary Isaak Center’s $50,000 solar panel expansion project will save COTS $20,000 in energy costs annually.|

An expanded solar electricity system at Committee on the Shelterless’ Mary Isaak Center in Petaluma will soon supply most of the facility’s power needs, freeing funds for the homelessness-focused nonprofit to devote to other areas.

Workers were putting the finishing touches on the new 19.5-kilowatt upgrade to the existing rooftop system earlier this week, work that will roughly double the amount of solar power produced at the building.

The larger array will save COTS around $20,000 in electricity costs every year, said Mike Johnson, CEO.

“It will actually make us completely solar dependent – independent of the grid – most of the time,” Johnson said.

The $50,000 expansion is the result of a fundraising campaign by Everybody Solar, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on building solar power systems for other nonprofit organizations, said Executive Director Youness Scally. Major corporate contributors included Petaluma’s Enphase Energy, a developer of components for solar power systems that donated equipment and installation volunteers.

“It helps them to be more of a nimble organization, and to be able to devote more of their funds toward their programs,” Scally said of COTS and the solar project. “And the other goal is, of course, to offset the impacts of climate change.”

Noting that his organization has a history of working with Enphase, Scally said the company had advocated for a campaign to expand the existing system at COTS. Pete Brown, a senior director at Enphase, is also a member of COTS’ board of directors.

“We are honored to be part of the outstanding partnership that will make a real difference in our community by adding solar to COTS,” said Brown, in an announcement of the project. “The team at Enphase is pleased to be able to donate microinverters and looks forward to helping install the solar array.”

Johnson said the reduction in expenses for electricity was notable in the context of the nonprofit’s broader costs, since private donors often want to see their contributions go directly toward the organization’s programs. COTS provides housing for hundreds of homeless people on an emergency and long-term basis, as well as a variety of health care, career, food and other supportive programs.

Doubling the solar array’s size will save around $8,000 in additional funds each year, he said.

“That’s $8,000 every year that we don’t have to go out and raise,” he said.

Everybody Solar kicked off the COTS project in 2015, and private donors contributed more than $8,000 toward the campaign, Scally said. Panel manufacturer JinkoSolar donated panels and installers for the project, and solar installation company Solplicity donated $17,000, according to a press release.

The organization is still looking to raise an additional $25,000 to fund an eight-kilowatt solar power project at a separate COTS facility focused on permanent supportive housing for veterans, Scally said.

The two systems would add up to supplying the power needs of seven average homes, according to the announcement. More than $3,000 was pledged to the veterans housing project as of early this week.

“We’re hoping to start that project next year,” Scally said.

(Contact Eric Gneckow at On Twitter @Eric_Reports.)

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