Replacing Gasoline with Sunshine

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May 21, 2019
Vitto Riazzo leans against his 2016 Chevy Volt with the sun glowing on his face.

For eight years, Vitto Riazzo’s 1991 Honda Accord had helped him get to work and school. However, Vitto’s car was showing its age, and the signs became too big to ignore. The brakes began to fail. Leaks started to spring. Vitto knew he needed to look for a new car, but didn’t know what his options were. “I really wanted to get an electric car from the start but didn’t know if I could afford it,” the 24-year-old student recalls.

Vitto lives with his mother, Lisa Castilone, and two sisters. In 2011, they received a 4.3 kW solar system through GRID Inland Empire -- where Lisa also works as the Community Development & Tribal Manager. The money saved from their reduced electricity bills helped pay for home and school expenses, but Vitto’s dream purchase of an electric vehicle still felt out of reach. Then one day, he noticed a flyer that Lisa had brought home from work about the Clean Vehicle Assistance Grant Program. Through the statewide program, qualified applicants could get a grant of $5,000 for a new or used clean vehicle, as well as free Level 2 charging stations for those who purchased battery electric vehicles.

With the Clean Vehicle Assistance Program, Vitto purchased a 2016 Chevy Volt with 28,000 miles, using the $5,000 program grant as a down payment. “A $5,000 grant is a big deal,” he attests. “Your life changes drastically when you get a new car.”

When paired with solar, electric vehicles can be a tool for environmental justice in communities disproportionately impacted by air pollution. Considering that low-income families in the U.S. spend approximately $75-$78 billion on gasoline annually, clean mobility access is another important piece to creating a clean energy transition that includes and benefits everyone. Through our partnership with Beneficial State Foundation to support the Clean Vehicle Assistance Program, and soon with our partnership with the California Air Resources Board on their One-Stop-Shop Pilot streamlined application launching in 2019, GRID is working to connect frontline communities to the variety of programs and services that are helping make clean mobility accessible to all. GRID affiliates are also expanding clean mobility access on a regional level, with our partnership with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on their Clean Cars for All “scrap and replace” program, and ride-and-drive events organized throughout California, including within Tribal communities.

Now an electric vehicle owner, Vitto believes that services like the Clean Vehicle Assistance Program will lead to even more electric cars on the road. Vitto is able to get everywhere just by charging at home, with the electricity produced by his family’s rooftop solar system. “It’s kind of like saving money two times because you’re not spending on gas, and you’re not paying for electricity because it’s all coming from the sun,” Vitto said. “It’s a no-brainer, really.”