Athena's Historic Gem Theatre Crowned With Solar Panels After $84,000 Boost From Pacific Power Blue Sky

June 22, 2018


ATHENA, Ore. — Solar energy will be powering the completion of the Gem Theatre’s restoration now that a new solar array has gone into service atop the long-shuttered venue in the heart of this historic eastern Oregon farming community.

The dedication is set for 2 p.m. on June 23, following the Hodaka Days motorcycle parade, an annual event that celebrates the Hodaka motorcycles that used to be made in AthenaThe bikers will stop at the theatre for the ribbon cutting. Speakers will include Rob McIntyre with The Gem Theatre, Sen. Bill Hansel, and a representative from the Hodaka club. Attendees can go up to a viewing area to see the solar panels.

“It has been a long haul getting this far on the restoration project,” said Rob McIntyre, board treasurer of the organization leading the restoration. “But we have gotten here with the help of hundreds of people in the community and partners like Pacific Power’s Blue Sky customers. We’ll be able to use the solar energy now to power the work still needing to be done on the theatre and then when it is back in operation, the solar panels will make heating and cooling affordable so that  we can stay open all year long.”     

“Our Blue Sky customers put their dollars to work here,” said Lori Wyman, Pacific Power’s regional business manager for Umatilla County. “Not only will these facilities supply renewable energy, but they are helping increase the visibility and adoption of renewable technology. We are proud to be part of this important partnership with communities and our Blue Sky customers.”

The Gem Theatre and the Star Saloon are two halves of a historic building located on Main Street in Athena that has been closed for decades. The restoration project began in 2005 when a group of citizens approached the City to restore the Gem Theatre for the benefit of the community. The group recognized the need for a unique space for the arts in Athena. The City of Athena formed a committee dedicated to the Gem Theatre project.

The mission is to restore the building for the use of the general public. Once the building is restored, the focus will shift to operating the facility. The restoration project recently received the funding necessary to complete the HVAC system, which will make the building usable. The building is on track to be open in early 2019.

The 26 kilowatt installation, which will produce enough energy to power the theatre year round, is an essential element of making the Gem Theatre self-supporting and inexpensive to manage.

“We believe that the solar installation made possible by the Blue Sky program will allow us to operate year around by substantially reducing our overall utility overhead expense,” said McIntyre. Without the power savings, the theatre faced the prospect of closing in August and in January to save heating and cooling costs.

The Athena project is part of up to $1.1 million in new renewable energy investment in 2018, bringing more than 675 kilowatts of new renewable energy capacity online. Since 2006, Pacific Power Blue Sky customers have helped fund the installation of 101 community-based projects totaling 8.8 megawatts of renewable energy generation capacity, demonstrating the viability of renewable energy in their communities with more than $10 million in investment during that time.