Nonprofit group installing solar systems for low-Income families while training technicians

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- As year end approaches, a Bay Area nonprofit group is completing its 1,500th solar system installation of the year for a low-income family. The GRID Alternatives program not only reduces utility bills for such families, but it also is a training program for solar installation.

The Ayala family home in East Palo Alto is teeming with volunteers. Twelve of them, in red t-shirts, are from Bank of America. The others are from GRID Alternatives, a Bay Area based nonprofit that has been providing solar panel systems to low income families for 14 years. A typical installation would normally cost about $30,000. GRID does about 1,500 projects per year.

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"It's 80 percent or lower of the median average income of the county that you live in. You have to have a rooftop that makes sense for solar, and it has to be a benefit to you so your utility bill has to be high enough to make sense to go solar so you can really benefit from the savings," said Dani Mahrer of GRID Alternatives.

GRID Alternatives is also a training program for solar installation. Emily Goldenberg used to be a set designer.

"I wanted to have a career in renewable energy and I was just looking for a place that aligned with my mission, personal mission, to help low income families in under-served communities," she said.

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Bank of America gave GRID a $500,000 grant this year to support the training program. In addition, its employees are investing sweat equity.

"Most of the time, we are spending all the time with the clients and working behind the laptops and computers and helping our clients, but this is exciting to come out, learn the skills of the job and help a family get a solar panel here," said Shveta Somalwar, a client relationship manager at the bank.

By the time the solar system is turned on, the family expects to see a savings of about $42 per month on their utility bill.
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