The "Most Sensible Solution:" A Tribal Family Shares Their Solar Story


April 01, 2015

The Pepetone family of the Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria has long been aware of the bounty of the sun. Amid the lush rolling fields and mountain backdrops of their home in Loleta CA, the Pepetones cultivate fresh, delicious food in an intricate garden with over an acre of raised beds. Now, after helping to install their own solar system with GRID Alternatives, the Pepetones can realize the cost-savings of solar, and reap even more benefits from the sun!      

On a series of breezy, cool days in late December, a group of dedicated volunteers from Bear River and the surrounding community installed two PV solar systems for the Pepetones and their neighbors, both members of the Bear River Band. Together, these systems will produce 5.8 kilowatts of solar power, resulting in $50,000 in savings for the families over the lifetime of the systems.  From an environmental perspective, that’s 150 tons of greenhouse gas emissions prevented, the carbon offset equivalent to planting 3,500 trees!

Robert Pepetone was excited to get the family’s new solar system up and running. “We’ve been interested in solar for a long time, it’s just financially, we just didn’t have access to it, so this has been amazing,” said Robert. “For our family and for everyone else, it’s just the most sensible solution. All energy comes from the sun that we deal with anyway, it’s just some ways are more roundabout, and solar is the future.” 

Robert’s wife Murina was thrilled to be able to climb on the roof with the GRID crew and volunteers to assist in the installation of her own solar system, while Robert took care of their two daughters inside. “The volunteers were really excited and happy to help and work on the solar panels,” said Murina. “It was nice to see my garden from up there, I wanted to take a picture!” Also helping out on the Pepetones’ installation was Aaron Milhorn, the other homeowner receiving a GRID system in December.

With the savings from their new solar system, the Pepetones plan to expand their garden to provide even more healthy, home grown food for their family! What’s more, the Pepetones’ excitement around solar has continued after their installation: Murina is currently involved in helping her neighbors in the Tish-Non Village sign up to learn how to install solar with GRID.

The Bear River Band has worked for the past few years to expand renewable energy for the Rancheria. The tribe already has a wind turbine, which powers their water treatment plant and is interested to see wide-spread solar adoption on both their single and multi-family residences. These installs, and GRID’s continuing work with tribal nations in the region, is the result of $230,000 donated over the last two years from a donor advised fund of the San Francisco Foundation to support solar in American Indian communities on California’s northern coast. This funding allowed GRID to launch a dedicated tribal office. In addition to serving over 100 tribal families, tribal members have also received over 850 hours of hands-on installation experience in partnership with GRID, helping connect job-seekers with the skills needed to enter the growing solar industry.

Check out more great photos from this install!