Free solar panels for low-income families

A nonprofit group expanding its reach to western Colorado is working to get solar panels in the hands, and on the homes, of people who most need them but can least afford them.

GRID Alternatives installed its first system in California in 2004 but now has offices in several states, including Colorado. Its Colorado office is now working with Community Office for Resource Efficiency in the Roaring Fork Valley to install solar projects on 10 homes from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. GRID Alternatives also is undertaking projects with Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley involving several homes in Silt and Carbondale.

In addition, Housing Resources of Western Colorado is helping it identify a client apiece in Fruita and Grand Junction for further pilot projects.

The nonprofit provides free solar projects for families making less than 80 percent of area median income limits, which vary depending on household size. Homeowners help provide “sweat equity,” similar to the model employed by Habitat for Humanity, said Shirley Moore, program manager for GRID Alternatives Colorado.

Moore said low-income people have bigger priorities like paying for groceries and their mortgage and can’t afford the upfront costs of solar, even with the incentive programs that are available. As a result, they miss out on the immediate savings.

“We want to make sure that the transition to clean energy includes everyone,” Moore said.

GRID Alternatives has installed solar in more than 4,200 homes, saving families more than $115 million and offsetting 360,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the organization says. The projects also have resulted in training for nearly 16,000 volunteers.

So far in Colorado, it has put in 46 systems.

Besides relying on volunteer help, the organization counts on financial donations from sources such as companies, local governments and individuals.

Because it can’t take advantage itself of tax credits, it does so indirectly by teaming with third-party private entities to create arrangements for homes.

It also counts on other nonprofits and other entities to identify clients and otherwise support and partner with it.

“I think it’s exciting to see this program that’s been tested elsewhere come to Colorado and start to make an impact,” said Allyn Harvey, a Carbondale Town Council member and chair of Garfield Clean Energy, an intergovernmental collaborative in Garfield County.


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