Building Back Better with Solar + Battery Storage

In the years since California’s deadliest wildfire, GRID Alternatives North Valley has installed no-cost solar photovoltaic systems on 10 wildfire survivor’s new homes, including two solar + battery storage projects through our Disaster Recovery Initiative. What follows is a conversation with Richard Stone, a longtime Paradise resident whose family received a solar + battery storage system, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

We are asking for your support to ensure other Camp Fire survivors can also benefit from the peace of mind that renewable energy provides through our Disaster Recovery Initiative. We have a waitlist of several families of survivors but need to fundraise to meet their needs. Any amount helps - donate here

First, can you share with us a little bit about who you are?

I’m retired and in my 70s. We moved to Paradise from Santa Cruz around 20 years ago, to enjoy our retirement years in a nice, quiet town. Up until the 2018 fire, it was a wonderful town to live in, with very nice people. I had my own auto repair business in Santa Cruz for 20 years. I worked hard, 6-7 days a week, just to make ends meet, and so that I could retire a little early and try to enjoy all my hard work. 

Tell us about your home before the 2018 Camp Fire.

It was a nice home, probably 30-35 years old at the time. My wife and family worked hard on the outside; in the garden, we had fruit trees and we had half a dozen pine trees in the front yard. Look up the word “Paradise” in the dictionary and there you have it, this town and this home. Now, there’s a lot of work left to be done with this yard. It looks terrible, it looks like a tornado hit it. 

Can you tell us a little about that day?  

It’s just so hard to describe, a fire like that. What you’ve seen on TV is just about what we drove through. Luckily enough we escaped. I still have nightmares, though.

We stayed in a motel for a couple of weeks until we bought a trailer. We lived in a parking lot for a year and a half. And then this last summer we moved up to my son’s house and we’re living there now, in a trailer, while this home is built.

Do you want to talk about how you felt as you learned about what destruction the fire had or was causing?

To see what was left of what I had worked 50 years for, it was like I worked for nothing.  It was all gone - my tools, my car,  everything that I had worked for and saved. (sighs) Even two years later, it’s hard to imagine. 

There were a dozen homes on the street that we live on, and now there’s only going to be 2. I don’t think anybody else is going to come back. It's sad. I know a lot of people have moved away to other states. They said, “I can’t take this.”  But, where else are you going to go? Where are you going to go where there aren't floods or fires or earthquakes or something?  We moved from Santa Cruz, where the ‘89 earthquake almost destroyed our house there. And I was like, I don’t like those quakes, I’ll move up into the mountains, where it’s safe. 

And then to lose all of our trees, fruit trees, everything. It’s like we started all over again with a bare property. But the insurance company was pretty good, we’ve got this house, we’re only weeks away from getting our occupancy, and we can move in here and enjoy this wonderful solar system that GRID Alternatives has blessed us with. 

Can you tell us about your new home? How does it compare to your previous home?  

It's a better-configured home than we had before. I like to do painting and other things, so I put a dark stain on the doors, the same as the cabinets, and a lot of the other things. Just trying to put my touch, my family’s touch on it. And because of the new town ordinances, we have upgraded insulation and dual pane windows, and a sprinkler system in the house. The house is just...a 2020 brand new home.  

How did you find out about GRID? 

Somehow, I ran across this thing for solar on the internet, and I signed up for it about a year ago. I kind of forgot about it because I figured I’d be standing in a long line, and maybe there’d be someone who’s more needful or less fortunate than me. But then I started communicating with Dan [GRID Outreach Coordinator] and I go, well it sounds good and my wife was like “Ehhh..” Sometimes you wonder, there are so many scams and people trying to get something from you. She said, “Well what does it cost us?” and I said “This is all free!”, and she was, “Well that sounds good and everything, but is it real?” I said, “Yes it is! Whatever Dan tells me, I believe, and he says this is a totally free system and I believe him,” and it is, it’s wonderful. 

How do you hope solar, or savings from solar, will help you?

Solar is going to ease our debt. We won’t have giant PG&E bills anymore, and we know that we will be able to afford to live here. Even though we built a nice home, I’m on social security, and my wife and I only have a certain amount of money to live on. This certainly helps out A LOT.  To know that there will always be power there. We’ve lost power 3 times in the last 2 and half months because anytime the wind blows, PG&E shuts the power off for a day or a couple of days. With this battery backup system, we don’t have to worry about power. You wanna shut the power? Go ahead. We’ve got power, we’ll have lights, we’ll have the heater on, whatever else we need. 

You can’t imagine the relief to know that our food won’t go bad in the refrigerator. We’ve had that happen when we’ve lost power. What are you gonna do? The refrigerator gets warm, gotta throw everything away. So on top of everything else, now you don’t have to worry about throwing food away. Food’s expensive, and it’s just sad, we had probably hundreds of dollars worth of food in the freezer because my wife and I found a sale on chickens or whatever and put them in the freezer. I’d done that probably less than a week before the fire. All that food literally got burnt up. 

How did recovery start for you?  What helped?

This year really hasn’t been that great, trying to get this house built, and had a family member pass away, so it’s just been like, what else can happen? But when the GRID people drove up here it was like the sun was shining bright again, for once. I still gotta pinch myself sometimes again, I say, did this really happen? Yeah, I look up at my roof, yeah there are solar panels on them. I look at my garage, there’s a bunch of equipment over there. It happened! And I’m awake, my eyes are open!

I’ve been disappointed so much with the year it’s taken to build this house. I’ve had to push and push and push and push and it wears you down sometimes, you think gosh, is there any relief in sight? And there is! The thing that happened is that GRID Alternatives did a wonderful thing for my family. It’s nothing short of a miracle with what’s happened to my family lately.