Phi Delta Theta Installs New Solar Panels

Daniel Kim

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Photo by Halley McCormick

Over spring break, junior Joseph Heegaard finished his three-year project of installing 14 solar panels on the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house, making Whitman’s Phi Delta Theta house the second fraternity in the nation to have installed solar panels.

The panels are Oregon-made and the entire system is 3.6 kilowatts, which is going to save the fraternity about $1,200 per year and reduce the energy expenditure by about 60 percent.

“I’m expecting, with inflation, the panels will pay for themselves in about 12 years. There are a lot of incentives that go into how much money you can make off of it,” said Heegaard.

The panels are operating underneath Washington’s unique Incentive 937. The incentive gives the fraternity a certain amount of money per kilowatt that is produced, depending on the panel, where it’s made and what materials are used.

“We collect energy with our solar panels, and we’re connected straight to the grid. So, the energy doesn’t go into our house. The energy from our panels goes back into the grid and is sold to Pacific Power, who gives us an equal amount of power for compensation. The same amount of power is essentially going into the house from the energy produced, but this way, if the panels broke, our house wouldn’t be out of power,” said Heegaard.

Heegaard started and finished the project on his own. Initially, he was looking for a group of people to do the project with, but once he picked up momentum on his own, it was harder to find someone who was willing to take the time to learn everything about the project and work on it with him.

“I spent the first year laying the groundwork for the project and during the second year I spent most of my time laying the groundwork to fundraise. I started fundraising to reach my goal of $17,000 when I was abroad last semester in Ecuador. So when I came back, all that needed to be finished was the installation and the paperwork,” said Heegaard.

Heegaard raised the needed $17,000 by asking for donations from the fraternity chapter, nationals and a group called Illahee, which is a group of alumni that oversees the Phi chapter at Whitman. Heegaard was very persistent and convincing, which enabled him to receive a $10,000 from fraternity grant.

Photo by Halley McCormick

“Aside from the $10,000 fraternity grant, I was expecting to get most of the funds from fraternity members and alumni, but strangely enough I ended up getting a lot of donations from people who had no affiliation with the fraternities. I received money from people all over the country,” said Heegaard.

As Phi continues to save energy and costs from these new panels, current Sustainability Chair sophomore Ben Griffin hopes that this new project inspires other buildings to implement their own solar panels.

“We ultimately aim to demonstrate that sustainable practices are not limited to small households and individuals––even larger organizations and institutions have the agency and ability to encourage alternative methods of energy production,” said Griffin.

The fraternity has received recognition not only from the school, but from the nation as well. As the second fraternity house in the nation to have installed solar panels, Heegaard hopes that this sparks interest in other fraternities.

Whitman’s Sustainability Coordinator Tristan Sewell sees the project as an individual one, separate from the college’s sustainability plans.

“I think because they did this on their own, it very much stands on its own. I don’t know if it necessarily has bigger implications for the college as a whole,” said Sewell. “I think that it’s a great step and it’s good that students take initiative to take charge where they can and show what they want this college to be.” 

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