New Tribal Building to Run Fully on Solar Power

The Skokomish Tribe’s new community center could be considered one of the most energy efficient buildings in the region and one of the largest tribally owned solar energy systems on the West Coast.

With 438 solar panels on the roof of the new 22,000-square-foot building, the panels will produce about 129,000 kilowatts of energy a year – enough energy to power 11 single family homes, said Dave Nichols, the tribe’s construction project manager.

“In a way, the tribe will be a utility producer since it’s producing more than 100,000 kilowatts of energy,” Nichols said. “Electricity for the building will be provided by the electrical utility but power generated by the solar panels will be sent back to the grid. Any excess power produced will be purchased back from the utility company.”

The building is expected to achieve net-zero energy consumption, generating as much power as it uses, he said.

Despite the Northwest’s notorious gray winters, ultra violet rays from the sun constantly bombard the Earth. The panels will produce power regardless of the amount of sunlight, although at a lower rate than during the summer.

LED lighting will be used to provide more energy cost savings, plus the building is constructed with pre-manufactured foam-filled panels that provide highly efficient insulation, Nichols said. He added that the large building heats up surprisingly quickly and retains the heat, considering the 50-foot-tall ceiling in the gym.

Other facility amenities include a commercial kitchen, a computer lab, a workout room, a community arts studio and an elders lounge. The building is adorned with cedar planks that frame doorways and windows. More than a dozen cedar logs up to 24 inches in diameter greet visitors in three entryways and 34 cedar logs inside the building provide support for the exposed roof trusses.

The building will be the main gathering space for the community and is part of an overall master plan to develop a tribal center. It is also designed to be an emergency evacuation center during a major disaster, Nichols said. The backup generator can operate for at least seven days at full power. The building is above flood elevation as well.

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