Solar program a win for homeowners, job seekers, environment
Volunteers worked in 90-degree heat this week to install a new solar array for a working Fruita mom. She prepared a delicious Mexican buffet for the workers but paid nothing for the unit.
The actual cost of the 15-panel array was $15,000, but homeowner Ashley VanGundy got it for free through an innovative alternative energy program that is working to grow the market for solar power in California and Colorado.
Once installed, VanGundy said she will pay GRID Alternatives 2 cents per kilowatt hour for the energy produced by the array, but overall save $500 or more on electricity costs for the year.
VanGundy, who operates a hair salon out of her home at 288 Apple St., was the first person in Colorado to apply for the GRID program, said Tom Figel, development associate for GRID Alternatives Colorado.
VanGundy heard about GRID through Housing Resources of Western Colorado, the agency that helped her build her Fruita home three years ago through a Habitat for Humanity-style program.
“It’s wonderful,” VanGundy said. “I’m very thankful. It will help a lot with expenses.”
GRID, which started in California, wants to shepherd a successful transition to clean, renewable energy, especially low-income workers who otherwise lack the financial wherewithal to benefit, Figel said.
Besides relying on volunteer help, the organization counts on financial donations from people and businesses. Public agencies and other nonprofits also lend support.
The Colorado Energy Office, for example, granted GRID $200,000 to launch its effort in Colorado last year.
A family of four earning $49,000 a year, or 80 percent of the median income for Mesa County earners, qualifies for the GRID program, Figel said.
Last year, the organization installed more than 40 solar electric systems for families in Denver and Lakewood.
VanGundy’s project was the group’s first on the Western Slope. It was about a year before GRID was ready to start projects on this side of the mountains, Figel said.
It will not be its last project here. More installations are in the works depending on available funding and applications, he said.
Beyond the immediate benefit of energy savings and reduced carbon emissions, GRID is also able to supervise the work of its volunteers so that they eventually qualify for special certification.
Certified installation designers earn $50,000 or more a year, said Jim McMahan, a veteran and tradesman from Colorado Springs who has volunteered more than 150 hours so far to further his training.
Part of the GRID mission is to provide solar job training opportunities for local workforce trainees in one of the country’s fastest growing industries, said Beatriz Hernandez, GRID team leader.
Hernandez started with GRID as a volunteer in California and earned a job with the organization when it launched its Colorado operations last year.
“The goal is to bring together community partners, volunteers and job trainees to implement solar power and energy efficiency for these families, while providing energy cost savings, hands-on experience, and a source of clean, local energy,” said Carolee Hawkins, Grand Junction regional marketing director for Alpine Bank and a member of its Green Team.
The Alpine Bank Green Team was scheduled to work with Colorado Mountain College students to install the array Thursday, but the students from Rifle were unable to take part at the last minute.
That left Hawkins, McMahan and Jerry Carmody, a worker in the microchip industry from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They were assisted by several GRID experts, mostly women, who wielded the tools and checked designs.
“We are so pleased to partner with this green initiative,” Hawkins said. “This installation is estimated to provide more than $20,000 in direct financial savings for the family, add to Colorado’s renewable energy goals and offset carbon emissions.”
In 2005, Alpine Bank employees formed their own Green Team to ensure environmental stewardship.
“We adopted an environmental policy that commits us to improving our environmental performance through conservation and sustainable practices. Teaming up with GRID goes hand in hand with our mission,” said Clay Tufly, Alpine Bank regional president.
QUICKREAD GREEN TEAM
One of Colorado’s Top 50 Green Businesses, according to ColoradoBiz magazine, Alpine Bank has a mission to reduce energy use by 20 percent companywide. Between 2006 and 2012, the bank put its money where its mouth is by:
• Reducing energy use by 17 percent
• Installing alternative energy systems at three of its banks in south Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Silt.
• Purchasing or leasing six community solar gardens.
Source: David Miller, chairman, Alpine Bank Green Team