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Published on August 15th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor


California Senate To Decide Future Of Low-income Solar Programs

August 15th, 2013 by  

By Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of GRID Alternatives

Doris Magante_AB217

Mrs. Doris Magante

For Doris Magante, a retired grandmother and Native American elder, summer has been a season to dread. Hot temperatures on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in northeast San Diego county send her electricity bill soaring as high as $400 a month, forcing her to choose between running the air conditioner or buying necessities for the grandchildren and foster children she cares for in her home. But not this summer. Ms. Magnate is one of 12 families in the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians that have converted to solar power with the help of non-profit solar installer GRID Alternatives and the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program – a groundbreaking program begun in 2009 that enables low-income families to reap the benefits of solar. Through a combination of energy efficiency measures and her new solar electric system, Ms. Magante’s electric bills have dropped by nearly 80% from last year, allowing her to cool her home when the temperatures soar, and helping her fixed income stretch a little further each month.

California’s investment in low-income solar over the last five years through both SASH and MASH, its sister program for multi-family housing, has been helping thousands of low-income families in over 250 cities and 12 tribal reservations access solar technologies that they otherwise would be unable to afford. These cutting-edge solar programs – the first of their kind in the nation – create auxiliary benefits for all California communities by helping people stay in their homes; providing energy cost-savings that get reinvested in local economies; providing opportunities for job seekers to get hands-on training and paid jobs in the burgeoning field of solar installation; and generating clean, renewable energy to help clean our air. More than that, by putting solar on the most modest rooftops, they help position solar power as a viable long-term energy strategy for our country.

But, as demand for the SASH and MASH Programs grow, their funding is rapidly being depleted and both programs are expected to run out of money well ahead of their scheduled sunset in 2015.  To address this, a new policy effort has been taken up in Sacramento. AB 217, the Equitable Access to Solar Energy bill, co-authored by Assembly member Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and sponsored by GRID Alternatives, would provide funding to continue the state’s low-income rebate programs until 2021.  AB 217 meets the same installation targets as the current programs (~50MW) with only half the program budget ($108 million) by capitalizing on existing program efficiencies, statewide public-private partnerships, and equipment cost reductions.  The bill also continues the innovative green jobs component of the SASH and MASH programs and will create opportunities for thousands more volunteers and solar job seekers to obtain hands-on training and paid jobs in California’s booming solar industry.

A broad based coalition of over 100 organizations including community job training programs, affordable housing providers, environmental groups, Native American tribes, corporations, cities and municipalities have pledged their support to AB 217 and sustaining the low-income solar programs. The Equitable Access to Solar Energy bill has already cleared two critical hurdles in the Assembly and Senate, but two more key votes are expected in the next few weeks as it heads to the Senate Appropriations committee. To sign up for AB 217 updates or to voice your support for continuing California’s pioneering low-income solar programs, please visit


Erica Mackie is CEO and co-founder of GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that brings solar power and solar job training into communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access. She and co-founder Tim Sears, both engineers, started the organization in 2004 on the belief that clean, affordable energy from the sun should be available to everyone. From its base in Oakland, Calif. GRID Alternatives has grown to seven offices in California and one in Denver, CO, and will be launching its program in the New York/New Jersey area this fall. GRID Alternatives was selected to be the statewide program manager of the SASH program in 2008. For more information visit

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  • agelbert

    Senator Sanders of Vermont has gotten this pilot program going in Burlington. If it works as planned, then we can all go solar without upfront costs.
    Qoute from the letter posted below:

    “Passed legislation to promote “on-bill financing” that allows customers to purchase wind or solar systems and pay the cost over time on their electric bill. Burlington, Vermont will be the site of the nation’s first pilot program”

    Here are some of my thoughts about how the low and middle income families can get on the solar power bandwagon:

    I sent a copy of this ambitious, but doable, proposal to switch to 100% renewable energy

    Liberty Ship example of doable switch to 100% Renewable Energy


    Today, several countries have, as do we, a much greater industrial capacity (than in WWII when Liberty ships were massed produced at the rate of one every 42 days!) .
    It is inaccurate to claim that we cannot produce sufficient renewable energy devices in a decade or so to replace the internal combustion engine everywhere in our civilization.
    The industrial capacity is there and is easily provable by asking some simple questions about the fossil fuel powered ICE status quo:

    How long do ICE (internal combustion machine) powered machines last?

    How much energy does it require to mine the raw materials and manufacture the millions of engines wearing out and being replaced day in and day out?

    What happens if all that industrial capacity is, instead, dedicated to manufacturing Renewable Energy machines?

    IOW, if there is a ten to twenty year turnover now in our present civilization involving manufacture and replacement of the ICEs we use, why can’t we retool and convert the entire ICE fossil fuel dependent civilization to a Renewable Energy Machine dependent civilization?

    1) The industrial capacity is certainly there to do it easily in two decades and maybe just ten years with a concerted push.

    2) Since Renewable Energy machines use less metal and do not require high temperature alloys, a cash for clunkers worldwide program could obtain more than enough metal raw material without any additional mining (except for rare earth minerals – a drop in the bucket – compared to all the mining presently done for metals to build the ICE) by just recycling the ICE parts into Renewable Energy machines.

    3) Just as in WWII, but on a worldwide scale, the recession/depression would end as millions of people were put to work on the colossal transition to Renewable Energy.

    However, despite our ability to transition to 100% renewable energy, we “can’t do it” because the fossil fuel industry has tremendous influence on the worldwide political power structure from the USA to Middle East to Russia to China.

    In other words, it was never

    1. An energy problem,

    2. A “laws of thermodynamics” problem,

    3. A mining waste and pollution problem,

    4. A lack of wind or sun problem,

    5. An environmental problem,

    6. An industrial capacity problem or

    7. A technology problem.[/color]

    Every single one of the above excuses for claiming Renewable Energy cannot replace Fossil Fuels are strawmen presented to the public for the express purpose of convincing us of the half truth that without fossil fuels, civilization will collapse.

    It was always a political problem of the fossil fuel industry not wanting to relinquish their stranglehold on the world’s geopolitical make up.

    It drives them insane to think that Arizona and New Mexico can provide more power than all the oil in the Middle East. Their leverage over lawmakers and laws to avoid environmental liability is directly proportional to their market share of global energy supplies.

    They are threatened by Renewable Energy and have mobilized to hamper its growth as much as possible through various propaganda techniques using all the above strawmen.

    End of snippet

    Full Liberty ships article here:

    to Senator Sanders, which prompted this e-mail to me:

    Email from Senator Sanders‏

    U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (


    Dear Mr. G. Gelbert:

    Thank you for contacting me about renewable energy. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you on this topic.

    I am one of the strongest supporters in the Congress for moving to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Doing this will cut greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to dangerous global warming, and will help create good-paying jobs.

    My work in the Congress has focused on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, strengthening incentives for renewable energy, and enacting comprehensive climate change legislation that would put a price on carbon pollution and invest in clean technologies.

    To lay out a real plan for transforming our energy system, I have introduced with Senator Barbara Boxer the Climate Protection Act. This bill, and a companion bill called the Sustainable Energy Act, would put a price on carbon pollution, and use a portion of the revenue to help invest in weatherization and renewable energy technologies. This legislation builds on progress we have already made.

    As a member of both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I have also focused on the following renewable energy issues:

    · Helped create the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program that has funded billions of dollars in energy efficiency retrofits around the country.

    · Passed legislation to promote “on-bill financing” that allows customers to purchase wind or solar systems and pay the cost over time on their electric bill. Burlington, Vermont will be the site of the nation’s first pilot program.

    · Worked with members of both parties to introduce the Ten Million Solar Roofs Act, which would help reduce the cost of solar arrays for the roofs of homes and businesses.

    · Secured financing for a 1.45 megawatt solar energy project at the Vermont Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport. This system saves the National Guard hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs every year.

    · Introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, which will eliminate billions of dollars in government subsidies for fossil fuel production.

    · Support the Clean Air Act, increased vehicle fuel economy, and the crucial tax credits that help new sustainable energy businesses grow.

    Again, thank you for contacting me about this important issue. Feel free to contact me again in the future about this or any other subject of interest to you, or for up-to-date information on what my office is working on please visit While there, I invite you to sign up for my e-newsletter, the Bernie Buzz, at Please be aware that due to security screening procedures, postal mail to my office experiences delays that will lengthen the time it takes me to get back to you. The fastest way to contact my office is by calling 1-800-339-9834.


    United States Senator


    • Marc Talloen

      Fantastic comment Mr. Gelbert!

      • agelbert

        Thank you. I authorize you and anyone else reading this to pass it on with or without attribution (any part or the whole you wish to use). We need to think big about solving our problems. This gradual incrementalism will not do with this global climate crisis upon us.

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