Lee Vining’s Pioneer Pavilion Small Step for a Big Idea–Solar EV Charging at the Eastern Gateway to Yosemite

Community activists have raised a solar pavilion in the small town of Lee Vining that they plan to use for charging electric vehicles (EVs). Dubbed the Pioneer Pavilion, the project is part of an ambitious effort by a local Climate Action Group to make the town on the east side of the Sierra Nevada more “climate friendly.”

Lee Vining is the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park and Toulumne Meadows at the head of the dramatic Tioga Pass Road.

The pavilion in Lee Vining’s Hess Park will feed electricity from the solar panels to the nearby Mono County Historical Society building. The pavilion, the Historical Society, and popular tourist attraction of the Upside Down House are all within easy walking distance of the shops and restaurants in Lee Vining.

Led by retired park ranger Janet Carle, the community group plans to eventually offer public WiFi in the pavilion and a J1772 Level 2 charge station at the parking lot.

There are no public non-Tesla EV charging stations on US 395 from Mojave, California to Gardnerville, Nevada a distance of more than 300 miles.

Carle, and other volunteers in the community, have worked the past three years to bring the $80,000 project to life. The effort began, says Carle, when the regional planning commission suggested that the climate activists do something concrete to show the community what can be done. From there, the idea just took off. Carle says the community’s endorsement and support of the project is “like a fairy tale.” It was the year of people saying “yes” rather than “no.”

Don Condon of the Eastern Sierra Chapter of the Electric Vehicle Association characterized the project as an “old-fashioned barn raising” where everyone pitched in with what they could.

That included solar contractor Sierra Solar who donated their time on the project, as did other vendors, including a local mason.

The pavilion uses translucent solar panels that provide a pleasing dappled light beneath the canopy says Carle. While the size of the solar pavilion is small in a state the size of California where many solar projects are gargantuan, completing the project was no small feat in a town of only 400 people.

Sierra Solar installed Lumos architectural solar panels made in San Jose, California. The panels lack a backing so the sun partially shines through. The panels are designed for use in car ports, pavilions, picnic areas, walkways, and EV charging spaces where the see-through panels make a statement about the use of solar energy while also providing shade.

This was an effect that the community group desired. They wanted people to know that they were beneath solar panels and not just roofing material. Carle envisions integrating the solar pavilion with the local schools as an outdoor classroom. The space is designed to hold 80 people.

In a textbook example of community participation, the project gained momentum when organizers solicited locally-made tiles painted by people in the community. The project’s FaceBook page shows a busy community hall as residents painted their tiles for use in the pavilion. Also popular was the decision to feature nine pioneer families of the Mono Basin in the pavilion. Story boards describe the families’ role in settling the area.

The “stars aligned” says Carle and the pavilion was connected to the grid 18 October 2018.


Lee Vining’s Pioneer Pavilion Small Step for a Big Idea–Solar EV Charging at the Eastern Gateway to Yosemite, by Paul Gipe, Wind Works, October 20, 2018.

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