Phi House Plans for Solar Panels

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Illustration by Luke Hampton

Even from abroad in Ecuador, junior Joe Heegaard has a plan for Whitman College’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity chapter. As former sustainability chair of Phi, he is spearheading a project to put solar panels on the roof of the fraternity’s house. This project is designed to save energy and money for both the fraternity and the college. Heegaard started designing the project in September of 2012 and hopes to make concrete progress before his graduation.

“I want to do this because I believe it would set an example for fraternities nationwide to strive for an environmentally responsible future. As the world continues to be devastated by non-sustainable energy endeavors, I hope that this project will act as an emblem for Phi Delta Theta of our commitment to the environment,” said Heegaard in an email.

Money is the largest obstacle standing in the way of the solar panel installation. There are two options that the Phis are investigating. For $11,000, they could install 2.75 kilowatt panels that are made in Oregon. The other option is to install a similar 2.75 kilowatt system, the key difference being that these are made in Washington for $16,500 and include a $0.54 per kilowatt hour incentive. The extra incentive affects how long it will take for the panels to pay themselves off. The Oregon-made panels are cheaper, but they do not include an incentive, which would benefit Phi more in the long term.

Whitman has a Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF), and the committee is currently considering Phi’s proposal for a loan. If the fraternity is considered eligible, they will receive a loan to cover a large amount of the cost of the solar panels.

“With SRLF funds, I would aim to raise $8,000 and hope to take out a loan for $8,500. This $8,500 loan could then be paid back in four years from the incentives and the energy offset,” said Heegaard.

Until they find out their eligibility for the loan, the Phis are focused on raising $11,000 in order to install the cheaper set of panels. Heegaard is currently raising money and has gotten $1,500 pledged from various donors. In the next two weeks, he plans to extend the fundraising project to the rest of fraternity so they can assist in the endeavor.

“I think the addition of solar panels to the Phi house could be important to any and all conversations about climate change or sustainability on the Whitman campus and at the national level of Phi Delta Theta itself,” said current Phi Sustainability Chair sophomore Ben Griffin in an email.

Heegaard acknowledges that there is some dispute about the actual carbon offset of solar panels, as well as the overall efficiency, but he believes that they would be better than nothing.

“We can no longer stand idle in the midst of environmental havoc. We simply don’t have time, and although solar panels might not be the perfect solution, I maintain that it is better than the alternative,” said Heegaard.

Phis seem to be showing a positive response to the idea of reducing the fraternity’s energy consumption.

“We are currently in the fundraising process, but the whole house is real excited about it. I’m really excited about it,” said current Phi member junior Sam Adler. “It should still be a while though, like a year or two, before they are installed.”

Phi President senior Patrick Finnegan added that it is Phi’s goal to make serious progress on getting solar panels on the house by the time Heegaard graduates in 2015.

“We are highly considering the prospect of getting solar panels for our house; however, we are dealing with certain financial and advisory hurdles before we can continue with the project,” said Finnegan.

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