By Diane Reinhardt
By 2004, KIDE Community Radio had already been on the air for 24 years, and Joseph Orozco, founding member and station manager, knew he had good reason to be concerned about the station’s broadcast power. Outages were frequent in his isolated area of northern California and of serious concern to KIDE’s Hoopa Valley community. The station website notes, “To reach the community, you must drive along a narrow road that hugs a mountain range 300-600 feet above the Trinity River on the valley floor. Hoopa is the gateway to tribes of the region that include the Yurok and Karuk. They are nestled a long the river and on the mountain sides in villages named Pecwan, Weitchpec, Orleans and Happy Camp. To the south is Willow Creek, a small multi-cultural village. This is the territory of KIDE, community radio.”
Joseph wanted to insure that the station could remain on the air through these recurrent emergency situations; but, at the time that the station was built, a back-up generator was not an allowable Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) purchase.
Looking for a solution, Joseph researched propane generators, intending to coordinate the station’s needs with the propane-powered heat and cooking facility of the nearby tribal casino. He applied for and received a local area grant from the McLean Foundation of Fortuna, California, for $10,000 to purchase and install a propane unit.
However, soon after receiving the grant, Joseph discovered, while interviewing a local musician, that the musician’s father, a tribal member, was a partner in a company that provided solar electric units for homes. Joseph recalls, “I asked if he could run a radio station on solar power. He said, ‘Sure. What is the total amperage you’d need?’ Having done the research for the propane generator, I had a good idea of my need and asked how much it would cost. He said the unit I’d need would be about $10,000 plus labor. I said, ‘Well I have a $10,000 check in my back pocket.'”
Joseph then wrote the McLean Foundation requesting approval of the purchase of solar panels and an inverter. “I told them,” he says, “the solar panels would give us power everyday compared to just back up power when the electric grid went down.” They agreed. “I guess we backed into the alternative, but it still was the right thing to do.”
And then came the bonus: Pursuing a solar conversion, in the end, also provided KIDE with that all-important source of back-up power. Inspired by Joseph’s quest, the casino manager requested money from the tribal council to purchase a large and costly propane generator for the casino. The tribal council agreed with one stipulation: the radio station had to be provided with back-up power free of charge. Joseph recalls, “With that win we did not need back up battery storage so we were able to put more money into the solar panel purchase. We got 20 panels instead of 15.”
These decisions were well-conceived. In 2006, a winter storm took out all of the electric power in Humboldt County. Joseph remembers, “River water levels were predicted to rise to flood conditions. Rain storms caused rock slides; roadways were blocked. Then the power went out as trees blew across power lines. Because of our investment in alternative energy we were prepared. KIDE-Hoopa and KHUM-Fortuna were the only broadcasting stations not to go down. We received many phone calls from outside our broadcast range asking if rumors that the Trinity River dam had broken were true. We were able to give assurance that the rumor was false. Our four person crew stayed live on air for 72 hours until the river levels finally receded. For us the emergency was over; we were toast. We let the audio-assist program fill in a few shifts while we went home to mop up and to get some sleep.”
KIDE is powered by a Sunny Boy Hybrid Inverter and 20 roof-mounted solar panels that generate about 66% of their needs. In the day, the Sunny Boy measures the amount of solar power available to generate electricity. During peak sunshine hours, the electric meter slows to almost a full stop. At night, the unit draws power from the commercial grid. The station does not store surplus power but rather uses all the power it generates.
The equipment is owned by KIDE-FM and is maintained by The Solar by Kolher Company. Station personnel clean the panels themselves and have had no problems with the equipment. The solar-power strength is regulated by the inverter to match the broadcast power needs. “All the electronics used in radio don’t care where the power comes from. It just needs to be consistent to maintain proper operation,” Joseph points out. KIDE remains a standard customer with the commercial grid; the station simply uses less power than other area businesses.
Looking back on their solar conversion, Joseph now says, “As mentioned before, we sort of backed into solar power. But the timing was right. After we installed the system, the Solar by Kohler Company submitted all the reports and documents needed to the State of California’s Solar Power Rebate Program. The State of California gave us 50% of our purchase price back. We made $7,500 on the deal which paid us back for the installation labor fee and still left us with a $2,500 profit. We wanted to go solar because it was the right thing to do. We thought we couldn’t afford it, but we became the first solar-powered radio station in California. And we are the first tribal entity to go solar.”
But the greatest significance of the decision has little to do with its economics. Joseph’s advice to other stations has a wider foundation: “I say, do it! A south facing roof line helps or some area on the property that gets southern exposure is a must. But the sun’s rays are equal all over the Earth. Finding a way to use alternative power is always the right thing to do. We can not keep using fossil fuels and coal or even natural gas to create electricity. All the current industry sources are too capitalistic. We need electricity to broadcast; we need to find a means to use an alternative to corporate suppliers. I say do not go into using an alternative power source with the thought in mind that doing so you will generate surplus power to sell on the corporate grid. That is as capitalistic thinking as the current power grids.”
Further, Joseph points out, “Another element to the sale of surplus power is you need a way to transmit that power. The power does not simply reverse on the same line that’s connected to the fuse box. To generate enough power to make it worthwhile to sell would also cause local environmental consequences.”
And to those considering changing now, Joseph says, “It is always better to plan ahead rather than to retro-fit. If you go the generator route, go propane rather than diesel or gasoline. If you use any sort of transported fuel supply, get the local government to acknowledge the station as part of their Essential Emergency Resources, so you can get priority fuel supplies during declared emergencies. Law Enforcement, Fire and Medical services are at the front of the line. In more rural areas, they may be the only ones in line. You’ve got to get the Emergency status, too.”
Today at KIDE, still looking for better solutions, Joseph is planning the system’s development, hoping to purchase 30 or 40 new panels. “I am still seeking ways to improve the system. Having more efficient panels will help. I understand the newer panels are more efficient.”
In the summer of 2012, everyone was talking about the weather. Reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Climatic Data Center indicated that July 2012 was been the warmest month recorded (since 1895) in the contiguous United States. The July 26 United States Drought Monitor Map (courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s National Drought Mitigation Center) showed 64% of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse and 46% in severe drought or worse.
But Joseph Orozco and the community of KIDE listeners, descendents of an indigenous people who have lived on the same land for over 10,000 years, are doing something to address climate change and to fulfill their mission: “KIDE is in the business of promoting Social Change and advocating Environmental Justice. KIDE programming and outreach activities encourage a healthy quality of life. As a Native owned radio station, KIDE has a special responsibility to reflect the values of Native culture and address Native and tribal issues, while still serving listeners from all parts of the local community.”
Kide’s website notes that K’ide is a Hupa word for an antler taken off of a deer and used as a tool or for decoration. KIDE has been “a tool for the community since 1980.”