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California Senate To Decide Future Of Low-income Solar Programs

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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