CHAPEL HILL — Trish Hussey and Rita Leadem stretched a ribbon in front of a solar panel set up just outside the front door of the Freedom House Recovery Center on Thursday afternoon.
State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird stood beside them, wielding a blue-handled pair of scissors.
They stood – a bit incongruously, considering the event was a ribbon-cutting for a solar power project – in the shade, under the building’s overhanging roof.
Fortunately, the actual working solar panels on the roof overhead, which crews were installing as Kinnaird dispatched the ribbon with one efficient snip, were bathed in full summer sunshine.
“We all need to recognize the people on the roof,” Kinnaird said. “It’s 95 degrees, and they’re up there doing the work. So we should say thank you to them, too.”
The solar panels will provide hot water and electricity to Freedom House, which provides a wide range of services for people with addiction and mental illness.
The system was donated by NC WARN, the third such installation in its new Solar Rooftop Donation Program.
“We anticipate that this will save us thousands of dollars every year in power bills, and all that money we save can instead go directly into providing services,” said Hussey, executive director of Freedom House.
“But this goes far beyond just the financial savings,” she continued. “It’s also about raising awareness.
“Already, our staff has been watching the crews install the systems, and they’re interested and excited about the potential for clean, safe and affordable energy.”
NC WARN (Waste Awareness and Reduction Network), a nonprofit group dedicated to energy efficiency and clean power generation, has launched the new program by donating solar systems to the Helen Wright Center for Women in Raleigh, Urban Ministries of Durham and now Freedom House in Chapel Hill.
“We wanted to support other nonprofits, and we especially want to support nonprofits that provide direct service to the community,” said Leadem, assistant director of NC WARN.
“And we wanted to work with organizations that use a significant amount of hot water and electricity, like shelters and recovery centers. We’re thrilled to be able to do this, and next we’ll look at how we can expand the program across the state.”
Gregg Lasseter of Urban Ministries said the solar systems were installed there in May and have resulted in savings of about $250 per month.
At Freedom House, Solar Consultants of Carrboro installed the hot water system, and Yes! Solar Solutions of Cary did the photovoltaic electricity system. The system will generate 6,900 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, according to Yes! owner Stew Miller.
All in all, the Freedom House systems cost about $30,000, said NC WARN executive director Jim Warren. The funding comes from an unsolicited grant by a private party who wants to remain anonymous.
“This person was impressed with the work we’ve done to promote solar energy and wanted to support that work,” Warren said.
“We certainly hope to continue the program, and we’re looking at options and receiving requests. “We do have funding for some additional systems. I’d like to put solar energy systems on every institution in the state.”
John Richardson, Chapel Hill’s sustainability officer, said he wished he could attend this sort of event every day.
“This is what we mean when we talk about something being truly sustainable,” he said. “It combines solar power with a vital social service, and it also involves a number of partners working together.
“So you have social, economic and environmental elements all working together. It’s a great model.”