Solar panels are expected to save Sea Center at Stearns Wharf some $300,000 on future electricity bills. (Courtesy photo)

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center on Dec. 12 celebrated the installation of a new 52-kilowatt solar electric system as part of the Community Environmental Council’s (CEC) Solarize Nonprofit program. The Sea Center’s new photovoltaic solar electric system is expected to provide about half of the building’s electricity for the next 25 years.

Helping to mark the event were community leaders who joined Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center Board of Trustees and staff, and representatives from CEC, Asteri Solar, Sun Pacific Solar Electric, Inc., and Mission Wealth.

CEC’s Solarize Nonprofit pilot program is designed to help local nonprofits go solar and run off renewable energy without an upfront cost. The program grew out of CEC’s residential Solarize program, which has helped 800 homeowners go solar.

The installation at the Sea Center was funded in partnership by CEC, Asteri Solar, and Mission Wealth, and installed by local company Sun Pacific Solar Electric, Inc.

The Sea Center is the fifth nonprofit to complete installation through the program, following the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Central Coast – Santa Maria Campus, and Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. In sum, these projects will total 159 kW of solar energy.

The Sea Center is projected to save more than $300,000 on future electricity bills over the life of the panels by using solar power. The savings will be directed back into the Sea Center’s programs and exhibits that educate the public about the Santa Barbara Channel.

“We had been exploring how to install solar on our Sea Center facility for years, but it wasn’t until CEC and their partners approached us that we were able to get over the significant financial challenges to achieve this milestone,” said Luke J. Swetland, museum president/CEO. “Thank you for helping us become a more green enterprise.”

“We are so happy to see the Sea Center transition to renewable energy,” said April Price, manager of the CEC Renewable Energy Program. “As a highly visible, attractive installation, the system is a demonstration project for residents and visitors alike on embracing sustainability and supporting our city’s 100 percent renewable energy goal.”

“We love a good challenge, we spent a long time designing this system to best meet the Sea Center’s goals,” said Cecilia Villaseñor Johnson, president/CEO, Sun Pacific Solar Electric, Inc.

“Because of the amount of water pumping in the exhibits and the high electricity bill, it was essential for us to maximize the roof space, SunPower panels are really the only choice because not only do they make the highest efficiency panel on the market with the longest warranty, but they are also the only panel manufacturer to warranty their product in a marine environment,” she said.

“We hope that the visibility of this project inspires others to go solar and realize it is the right thing to do for the environment and for their pocketbook. There is no other appliance that you can install in your home or business that the moment you turn it on, it starts giving you money back,” Johnson said.

The solar project is part of an organization-wide effort at the museum and Sea Center to be as environmentally responsible as possible, in line with their vision to connect people to nature for the betterment of both. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center have recently been certified as California Green Businesses at the highest Innovator level.

Asteri Solar launched in 2018 to support the community through impact investing in solar for nonprofit organizations.

While Solarize Nonprofit has already identified several nonprofits for funding through the pilot, there may be additional capacity for the program. Eligible nonprofits must own their buildings or be in long-term leases and have facilities suitable for solar. Nonprofits may apply at

For more about the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, visit For more on CEC, visit

— Briana Sapp Tivey for Museum of Natural History Sea Center.