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Solvang’s Wildling Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary by going solar

This article was published in the Santa Maria Sun on May 6, 2020.

The staff of the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature can’t let visitors back inside the museum quite yet, but that’s not stopping them from letting the sunshine in—so to speak.

Thanks to support from Solarize Nonprofit, a pilot project headed by the Community Environmental Council (CEC) of Santa Barbara, the Solvang museum was able to install rows of solar panels onto its roof earlier this year. The project is dedicated to helping regional nonprofits (based in Santa Barbara and surrounding areas) use renewable energy.

“The panels were lifted onto our roof in February, before stay-at-home orders were issued,” Stacey Otte-Demangate, executive director of the museum, told the Sun. “We passed inspection just last week and are just waiting for PG&E to tell us when we can officially let the solar power flow.”

In an alternate universe, the same week would have included the Wildling Museum’s Spring Barbecue, an annual dinner to raise much needed proceeds for the nonprofit. But this year’s fundraiser was to be particularly special, as 2020 marks the museum’s 20th anniversary. The celebratory event was originally scheduled for April 26 but has been tentatively postponed to sometime in October due to COVID-19 concerns, although no official date has been confirmed.

“We are very grateful to the sponsors of our 2020 event that chose to turn their sponsorship into a donation, rather than ask for a refund,” Otte-Demangate said, “despite our uncertainty about a fall event.”

While the museum has lost thousands of dollars in income from lack of admissions and store sales during its closure, the benefit of going solar was the lack of upfront costs, Otte-Demangate explained.

“We had no upfront costs, which was critical to our ability to move forward with this, other than minor permitting fees to the city and county,” the director said. “We will own the panels free and clear in year seven, after paying a little over $25,000 in energy costs to the developer. So, in the end, we won’t be paying monthly much more than we already are paying for our electricity.”

Over the next 25 years, the CEC estimates the Wildling Museum will save at least $150,000, Otte-Demangate added. Under the CEC’s recommendation, California Solar Electric, a solar installer that operates in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, supervised the installation.

“The installation process was relatively easy, as the panels are weighted down with ballast—so there was no need to secure them to our roof otherwise. Our only maintenance concerns are an annual cleaning of the panels—just a simple washing,” Otte-Demangate said. “And thanks to the design of our roof, no one has any idea we have solar panels, so there’s no visual disruption to the city’s Danish aesthetic.”

The Wildling Museum was already a Certified Green Business, fulfilling requirements of the statewide California Green Business Program, before going solar, but Otte-Demangate and her colleagues pushed to go the extra mile anyway.

“I thought it might be a way for us to double down on our pledge to operate as environmentally sustainably as we can afford,” she said. “I feel strongly that we need to ‘walk-the-talk’ about living lightly on our planet and be an example to our community whenever possible.”

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