Edmonds resident Chris Herman, a solar energy advocate who led the campaign to place solar panels on the rooftop of Edmonds’ Frances Anderson Center, died peacefully and comfortably at home June 18 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 58.
“He was a great man who was involved in many different communities,” Mr. Herman’s daughter Michelle wrote on his Facebook page following his death. “He loved nature more than almost anything else, from harnessing solar energy to running whitewater rivers.”
Mr. Herman’s passion for whitewater kayaking was so strong that he continued his whitewater trips while undergoing cancer treatment. He remained upbeat following his diagnosis, delighting in time spent with friends and family, including a party organized by his wife Eileen Herman last summer that was attended by several hundred at his Edmonds home.
A native of Burlington, Vermont, Mr. Herman studied mechanical engineering at the University of New Mexico, majoring in energy and power systems with a focus on solar design. “I took every class they had on solar, but didn’t want to get an ME (mechanical engineering) degree as I was afraid I would be tempted to take a real job making real money and I wanted to do solar,” he wrote on his Linked In page.
He moved to Seattle with the goal of doing solar home design, but admitted his timing wasn’t good as federal tax credits for solar were ending that year. “So I worked for a general contractor for two years learning how things get built and dressed up on my day off and tried to get consulting work with architects,” Mr. Herman wrote. “Finally I got tired of hearing ‘solar doesn’t work in Seattle kid, you’re wasting your time.’ So I learned to design and draw solar/green homes and have been at it ever since.”
He started Winter Sun Design in February 1987, designing solar/green homes and solar electric and solar hot water systems. Later in his career he also handled solar electric and hot water design and sales for Seattle-based Sunergy Systems.
He became active in sustainability issues, serving as a founding board member for both Sustainable Edmonds and the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild. He later became president and board chair for the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative, Washington state’s first community-owned solar cooperative, which under an agreement with the City of Edmonds installed solar electric panels on the roof of the Frances Anderson Community Center.
“He came in on the ground floor of just about every organization devoted to solar energy including Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, Solar Washington, and other state and national groups,” recalled Todd Cloutier, who served with Mr. Herman on the Sustainable Edmonds Board. “He stayed on top of all of the latest legislation and movements related to solar energy, and had an email group of thousands that he kept informed and inspired.”
State Rep. Strom Peterson, who served on the Edmonds City Council at the time the solar agreement was approved, said that Mr. Herman’s “passion and leadership in getting the solar installation on the Frances Anderson Center is something I’ll always be grateful for. He helped put Edmonds on the forefront of making us an leader in taking on climate change,” Peterson said.
Mr. Herman also served as a disaster reservist for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), and over the course of two decades was deployed on 31 federally declared natural disasters, mostly floods.
His main job, he explained, was “to educate disaster survivors on the hidden damages caused by the disaster, how to clean up safely, how to salvage what’s possible and how to rebuild better in preparation for the next disaster.”
Janice Freeman, who along with her late husband Bob Freeman founded Sustainable Edmonds in 2008, said that Mr. Herman’s work with disaster survivors was representative of how he treated others.
“He was so kind and generous with his time and everything else,” Freeman said.
“Chris and I were the first two recruits Bob and Janice Freeman ‘signed up’ for Sustainable Edmonds in 2008,” recalled long-time board member Lance Regan. “He was the driving force; leading, planning, and doing the heavy-lifting installing solar panels on the Frances Anderson Center.”
Sustainable Edmonds Board Member Susan Paine recalled Mr. Herman as “a true leader in understanding how solar power regulations impact the entire solar panel industry as well as the ultimate end consumer.”
Mr. Herman is survived by his wife Eileen, daughter Michelle, son Louis and siblings Anne, Jeff, Beth (Terry Cooney) and Andy (Kristy Larch). The family will hold a celebration of life later this summer, on a date to be determined, and asks that any donations in Mr. Herman’s memory be made to the following:
The Nature Conservancy (https://www.nature.org/)
Solar Cookers International (https://www.solarcookers.org/)
Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County (https://washington.providence.org/donate/hospice-home-care-of-snohomish-county-foundation/)
“He would love to be remembered as having unstoppable energy, as he’d see that as a solar pun,” Cloutier said, adding that would be the greatest compliment for a man “who went out of his way to spread his knowledge and passion for solar energy; organizing others so that all could benefit.”
“Every time we see those solar panels sitting on top of Frances Anderson Center, we should remember that we owe a debt of gratitude to Chris Herman,” Cloutier continued. “It was his idea, and stood for all that he believed in. Those solar panels aren’t just there to make energy for a building, they were put on Frances Anderson Center so that a whole generation of children will grow up seeing those panels quietly at work every time they come for a lesson or activity, and will see solar energy as being an expected part of our city. That’s Chris’ love of nature, community, family and teaching others, all wrapped up together.”
— By Teresa Wippel