Richmond program installing solar panels with help of local labor

solar richmond

John Orfali, left, passes a solar panel to workers on the roof. (Robert Rogers/RichmondConfidential)

When Juan Lores delivered pizzas in the late 1980s, the area around Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street was so dangerous his manager wouldn’t let his drivers deliver there after dark.

A lot has changed in the last 20 years. Lores in 2009 moved his family into the neighborhood he used to steer clear of. And on a sunny Thursday this week, he looked on as shiny new solar panels were installed on his home’s roof – at no cost to him.

“I would have never thought this was possible,” Lores said. “But the city has been great, they have made this happen. “

solar richmond

Lela Turner, 21, is a graduate of Richmond Solar job training program. (Robert Rogers/RichmondConfidential)

Lores is one about 40 homeowners in Richmond who are lined up to get fully-subsidized solar installations this year, through the Richmond Recovery Solar Rebate program, dubbed the R3 program. Eighty more are on the wait list.

The program offers two rebates, one that cuts the cost of installation for homeowners at any income level, and another that funds free solar installations for qualifying low-income homeowners. The program leverages resources from the State’s Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program and GRID Alternatives, a private nonprofit, with local money and labor.

All contractors who perform the work are required to staff at least one-third of their installation team with local graduates from Solar Richmond, the city’s green-jobs training academy.

Since July, the city has been trying to dole out more than $400,000 in federal stimulus funds to finance solar panel installation for Richmond homeowners. The city offers rebates to make the panels free for homeowners whose houses sit within the city’s enterprise zone (generally west of Interstate 80) whose income is below 80 percent of Contra Costa County’s average median income. For a three-person family, that amount is $59,200.

The city also offers solar panel rebates, totaling to an average $4,000-$5,000, to homeowners who make more money.

richmond solar panels

The home sits in the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. (Robert Rogers/RichmondConfidential)

Thursday’s job at Lores’ home, valued at nearly $20,000, was staffed by John Orfali of Oakland-based Save A Lot Solar, a contractor from Hull Construction, an electrician, and two Solar Richmond graduates, Chris Abercrombie, 24, and Lela Turner, 21.

“The program that Richmond has, with the training and the staffing requirements, is really an effective approach,” Orfali said. “We are always happy to include the Solar Richmond workers on our crew because they are well-trained and good to work with on the job site.”

Orfali said business is slow in other Bay Area cities, and mostly contracted by wealthier home-owners.

But in Richmond, with the rebates, business is picking up.

“We are going to be out here a lot this year,” Orfali said.

The crew draped Lores’ roof in 16 panels, each capable of generating 260 watts of power, covering about one-third of his 700 square-foot roof. The power absorbed by the sun and then transferred into the home should be all the family needs.

“It will basically zero out their power bill,” Orfali said, “maybe even put a bit back on the grid.”

Lores, who learned about the program in a Chevron Corp. mailer, said neighbors have inundated him with questions about the work crews at this house.

“I have a feeling I am not going to be the only one on this street” with panels, Lores said.

roof top in richmond

(Robert Rogers/RichmondConfidential)

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