Total Sustainability: Solarthon 2012 in South LA

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December 20, 2012

(Pictured: Solarthon 2012 homeowner, Joyce Cobbs, photo David Schmitz)

Los Angeles is increasingly becoming a clean technology hub, but for South Los Angeles residents, who face severe economic and environmental challenges—high rates of foreclosure, unemployment, and pollution—the benefits of clean energy are typically out of reach. All that changed in one neighborhood on Saturday November 10th, when GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles installed solar electric systems for ten low-income families in the lovely Willowbrook area.

The systems were installed with the help of over 120 community and corporate volunteers and the homeowners themselves as part of GRID Alternatives’ annual Solarthon event, a solar installation marathon and fundraiser celebrating renewable energy and green jobs and access to both for all Californians.

Taken together, the systems are projected to save families almost $300,000 in energy costs over their lifetimes, while preventing over 900 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of planting more than 2000 trees. In addition, twenty new homeowners opened their doors and signed up for the program on the 10th as well!

Event day speakers included Roy Jasso of Wells Fargo, Andrea Sanders of Yingli Solar, Ken Button, President of Verengo Solar, and Tina McKinnor, Deputy Chief of Staff and Distrcit Director for Assemblymember Steven Bradford (AD62). Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas could not attend but commented on these remarkable benefits in his Los Angeles County Second Supervisory District.

"Rooftop by rooftop, we are changing the way we live,” he noted. “We are creating not only wonderful new family homes, but also accessing clean, abundant and natural solar power. Every home that Solar Grid installs represents multiple steps - even leaps - in the right direction."

Homeowner Juanita Thompson joined the All-Women's volunteer team assigned to her home and helped install her own solar electric system at Solarthon (see pictures here). Ms Thompson addressed the crowd at Enterprise Park early on Saturday morning as volunteers stretched and sipped coffee, saying, "I just spent $560 on one textbook for my daughter. The savings are really going to help us, and also help the community. And it is going to make us more eco-friendly. ..I really am thankful that this is something I am part of. Thanks to the volunteers and the sponsors. You couldn't have a better organization you are supporting."

Alan Polee is another one of the homeowners who received solar at Solarthon with the help of GRID Cofounder Tim Sears, Board Member Joe Karp, and the Greater Los Angeles Advisory Council (see pictures of the install here). Mr. Polee has lived in this neighborhood for twenty years and dreamed about solar but never thought it was a possibility for his family. “As a father of five I was made more aware of the environment through my children's science projects dealing with greenhouse gases and alternative energy,” he said. “We thought it would be nice to have solar on our home but couldn't afford it. Now we will be able to participate in conserving energy and saving the environment.”

The savings—his energy bills will go down by about 97 percent—will also help him afford air conditioning in a city where African Americans are twice as likely to die in a heat wave than other residents.

The ten homeowners who received solar during this extraordinary and unique event are among more than 2600 statewide that have received systems through GRID Alternatives, bringing the benefits of solar—both jobs and clean energy—to communities that need it most. Much like a walkathon, Solarthon volunteers and individual donors raised over $14,000 for the event through their personal networks, and companies like Yingli Solar, Wells Fargo, SunPower Corp., Verengo Solar, OC Sunny, and InSolar! sponsored homes for employees and executives, while GoGreen Solar and Solar City sponsored with donations and tables at the event.

Job training is a critical part of GRID's work and job trainees and students from Taller San Jose and The Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) also joined the installation teams at Solarthon, networking with potential employers and improving their skills.

Salvador Torres, a solar student at the LATTC who has volunteered on multiple GRID projects, emphasized the immeasurable importance of getting hands-on experience with solar. “Almost every installation is different, and you learn how to troubleshoot and how it all comes together, which you just can’t learn in the classroom,” he said, noting that the experience is also required for certification as an installer. But equally important, his volunteer work with GRID also inspires him. “I just love feeling like I’m helping people out,” he said.

A radiant solar thank you from all of us at GRID Alternatives to our individual Solar Champions and Corporate sponsors for making our Solarthon such a celebratory day, and for helping us make South LA a brighter and more economically and environmentally sustainable place. Support solar in South LA and other local neighborhoods by making a donation now.