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A solar panel, painted by Sheridan High School art teacher Ashley Cooper, is displayed during an Art Alley event last month. The panel is part of the Solar Panel Art Collective Endeavor, which strive to utilize end-of-life solar panel as a medium to be sold as artwork and functional outdoor decor.

SHERIDAN — Katie Repsis is not a fan of solar panels.

This might be surprising considering the name of her business — EOL Solar — literally has the word “solar” in it, and the website for her business features a photo of dozens of solar panels. But, once Repsis explains herself, it’s easy to understand her concerns.

“I was never a huge advocate for solar panels because of the waste factor,” Repsis said. “I knew there wasn’t a huge push to recycle them. At the end of their life, they just go to a landfill somewhere. So they’re a great idea in theory, but down the line, they cause a major problem.”

The average lifespan of a solar panel is around 25 years, and 78 million tons of solar-panel-related waste are expected in landfills across the country by 2050, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

But what if the landfill wasn’t the final destination for solar panels? What if they ended their life in an art gallery instead?

That’s the idea Logan Jenkins, of Sheridan nonprofit Circular Wyoming, shared with Repsis during a coffee meeting earlier this spring, and the idea was too enticing to refuse.

“When he first mentioned that, I thought it was such a cool idea,” Repsis said. “Solar panels are really big and built to last and to be out in the elements, so it really seemed like a perfect canvas.”

Months later, Jenkins and Repsis already have their first proof-of-concept panel — a piece created by Sheridan High School art teacher Ashley Cooper hanging in the window of Bighorn Design. And there is much more on the way, according to Jenkins.

Several artists in Sheridan and around Wyoming are beginning to work on scaled designs for their own solar panel artworks, with EOL and Circular planning to showcase the pieces at SAGE Community Arts in September 2022.

Jenkins said panels have several features making them an ideal canvas for local artists, including a built-in frame and a wire in the back. Most importantly, any mistakes made on the solar panel’s glass face can be easily altered and corrected, providing a sense of artistic freedom not possible on other canvases.

The panels are also long-lasting, and Jenkins said he expects Cooper’s piece to last outside for five years or more in Wyoming weather, without needing a touch-up.

Most importantly, repurposing the panels as artwork keeps them out of the landfill, which is one of the key goals of both Repsis’ and Jenkins’ organizations. EOL Solar is a for-profit business dedicated to finding “second-life solutions for solar panels,” Repsis said. Similarly, Circular Wyoming is a nonprofit focused on “Wyoming-built solutions to global waste problems in the energy sector,” according to Jenkins.

The sky is truly the limit for the artistic potential of solar panels, Jenkins and Repsis said. Panels could be combined together to create a larger-than-life modular mural — Repsis says she is currently in talks with a local business about this very idea — and Repsis believes panels could even take the place of billboards at some point.

For now, Repsis said she’s just excited to contribute to the artistic culture of a community she loves —  she recently moved back to Sheridan from Fort Collins after growing up here — while reducing solar panel waste at the same time.

“I’ve always been an advocate for the arts, and it’s exciting to be a part of that culture here in a really unique way,” Repsis said. “It’s really exciting to reuse these panels and repurpose them as artwork.”

 

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