Standing beneath his nearly-completed 2kw rooftop solar array in Denver, Rick Lopez says it’s great to be alive. The Vietnam veteran learned through a local veterans group about GRID Alternatives, a non-profit organization that installs solar panels for low-income residents who need help with their energy bills.
Families with household incomes that fall at or below 80 percent their county’s median income, who own or rent their homes, may qualify to receive a rooftop solar system to help offset their electricity bill.
“We’re bringing together that steadily growing market of photovoltaics … and helping the energy security of income-stressed homes,” said Jeff Ackermann, Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office.
Founded in California in 2004, GRID Alternatives expanded to Colorado in January of this year and plans to further expand into New Jersey and New York this fall. A fully licensed solar contractor, GRID Alternatives leads teams of volunteers and job trainees on each project, providing opportunities for community members to give back while preparing workers for careers in the solar industry.
"The volunteers represent the lifeblood; doing great, noble work," Ackermann said, while the aspiring solar industry professionals receive hands-on training "in an industry that we look forward to steadily growing in Colorado—as a service as well as a place for employment."
The homeowners also feel a sense of accomplishment once the solar system is online, as the program requires 16 ‘sweat equity’ hours for participating families. This can include anything from roof work and panel installation to carrying supplies and making lunch for volunteers and trainees.
“It feels awesome,” said Rick’s wife, Bobby Lopez. “It’s like hitting the lottery because I never would have been able to do this.”
GRID Alternatives provides the fundraising and financing to cover the cost of the solar project, but the families are still required to pay their electricity bill. Rick expects his nine-panel array to save him about $70 a month on his Xcel Energy bill.
Aside from the cost savings, Ron Binz, GRID Alternatives board chairman and FERC nominee, said the participating families will set an example in their community. “The thing that I like to tell volunteers is that [homeowners] are actually going to be ambassadors for the movement toward clean energy,” Binz said. “People are going to drive down the street and see the solar roofs and say, ‘Wow—here’s somebody who’s doing something really important for the environment.’”
After serving his country in the Vietnam War, Rick, now 63, is proud to lead by example in the solar energy movement. “We’re really excited about everything that’s happening to us,” he said. After growing up in a poor farming family, his grandchildren are now attending college—and the Lopezes are producing their own electricity. “It’s quite a change,” Rick said. “We’re so grateful.”