Rebuilding Smart with Solar

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July 21, 2014
Helen Wilson with NEW volunteers

“When Hurricane Sandy hit I was at home finishing up dinner. I looked out the door and saw the water coming up my street. I called my neighbor who had a two-story house and said, ‘I’m coming over with the cat.’”

Helen Wilson, a 13-year resident of Union Beach, soon realized that she, like so many other families in this hard-hit town, would not be going home again. But now, 18 months later, Wilson is getting ready to move into a brand new, solar-powered home.

Last week, GRID Alternatives installed a solar electric system on a home built for Wilson through “Rebuilding Union Beach,” a demonstration project that was funded to design and install durable, eco-friendly modular homes for displaced families. The installation team, sponsored by Alcoa Foundation, included graduates from Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), an organization that prepares, trains and places women in careers in the unionized building and construction trades.

GRID Alternatives’ efforts are just a small part of the transformation taking place in Union Beach. Eighty-five percent of the town’s 2,600 homes were flooded with at least two feet of water during Hurricane Sandy, and 286 of them--including Wilson’s--have been demolished.

“The day after the storm, I came and saw the total devastation of this community,” said Jennifer Wenson Maier, Borough Administrator and founder of Rebuilding Union Beach. “After the initial shock, my first thought was: what an enormous opportunity to rebuild smart.

“The solar portion has been the hardest to include in the project,” said Wenson Maier, “but for us, it is the most critical component. We want to rebuild smart, and it’s a financial necessity for these families.”

Wilson is thrilled to be included. “I would see other homes around with solar and wonder if it was something I could have,” she said. “Not only will it help me save on my electricity bill, but will also help save the environment. I just feel so lucky.” Click here to see more photos from the day.

NEW group with Alcoa banner
The installation crew was sponsored by Alcoa Foundation.
Lifting the panel
Graduates of Nontraditional Employment for Women got hands-on experience with solar.