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A North Richmond family goes solar for Earth Day

on April 23, 2011

In celebration of Earth Day, a nonprofit solar panel installer helped a family in North Richmond reduce their electricity costs.

For Tiffany Woodwards, who lives in North Richmond with her two daughters, J’La (age 9) and Khalia (age 1), every opportunity to save money is worth consideration. “Whatever it’s going to save, you want it,” she said.

That is why she got interested in the letter she received few months ago explaining the idea of Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH), a California Public Utilities Commission initiative, managed by GRID Alternatives. This Oakland-based nonprofit organization and licensed solar installer identifies families with incomes of 50 to 80 percent of the average income per county and helps them get solar energy either at a low cost or for free.  Because the household remains connected to its previous electric service provider, it will still have electricity at night and when it’s cloudy, but overall the home’s electric bills are supposed to be much lower.

“At the beginning it was hard for me to believe that I could have the solar electric system installed for free,” Woodwards said. “And I also didn’t know much about it. I saw some solar panels on the roofs before, but I didn’t know what they were.”

However, the mother of two decided to attend an informational meeting, where she found out more about solar energy and the SASH program, and she decided to apply. A few months later she found out that her household qualifies for the installation. “My monthly electric bills are usually about $150-$180. If they say I’m going to pay 75 percent less, I’m up for it,” Woodwards said.

On April 21, a crew of around 12 workers, including GRID Alternative’s employees, volunteers from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and graduates of Richmond Solar, a nonprofit solar education program, started the installation of 18 solar panels on the roof of Woodwards’ house.

On April 22, as the Bay Area celebrated Earth Day, the installation in North Richmond was completed. After final technical approval and last adjustments, which will take another couple of weeks, Tiffany Woodwards will be able to start getting her home’s energy straight from the sun. “My mother always told me to save the energy,” Woodwards said.  “That’s why I keep screaming to my kids: ‘Turn off the lights! Use the sun!’ Now we can also use the sun in the different way.”

Her house was the 32nd property in Richmond where GRID Alternatives has helped install a solar electric system. GRID Alternatives uses state solar rebates and philanthropic grants to pay for the systems it installs, as well as a combination of labor from volunteers, corporate sponsorship employees and job trainees to install it.

“Our initiative not only helps low income families to greatly reduce their ongoing electricity bills, but also supports the workforce development’” said Lara Edge from GRID Alternatives. “Every installation GRID does includes volunteers or job trainees looking for work in the solar industry. It’s like a ‘classroom in the field’ on actual solar installations.”

“For the installation happening this Earth Day, we specifically selected the city of Richmond because it’s a place where the health of the community can greatly benefit from renewable energy sources and the city itself deserves positive attention,” Edge said.

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