Five local families are in the process of having their homes outfitted with money- and energy-saving solar electric systems this month as part of a first-ever tribal solar installation project.
After these five families, GRID Alternatives Inland Empire Regional Director Bambi Tran said at the July 23 project launch, GRID hopes there will be “five more and five more and five and five and five.” GRID, a non-profit solar installer, “in partnership with the Bishop Paiute Tribe, is bringing clean energy, much needed utility-cost savings and solar job skills to families on the Bishop Paiute Reservation.” The launch was held at the home of tribal member Roy Orihuela, the project’s first recipient.
Orihuela, who is also a GRID solar installation trainee, said, “To be able to produce my own electricity is a nice feeling. My grandmother (Mary Davis’) house is next.” Remaining project recipients are WaSuYaa West, Geraldine Weaver and Charlene Redner.
Project applicants take a pre-qualifying phone interview, then provide proof of home ownership, Southern California Edison customer status and income qualification of no more than 80 percent of area median income, Tran explained. For more information, contact IEoutreach@GRIDalternatives.org  or (888) 496-4743 ext. 7777 or visit www.GRID  alternatives.org.
The Tribal Council, SCE, City of Bishop and other officials joined community members and GRID staff for the laughter-filled inaugural event that included a Paiute blessing, speeches, a green-smoothie toast and green-ribbon cutting. Orihuela flipped the on-switch of his new solar system, which would save his family approximately $30,000 over the system’s 25-year life span, Tran said.
Project recipient West said that with very high electric bills, a medium-income job, and three kids to support, she could never have afforded the system on her own. Redner said she thought solar power would help improve the air quality and thereby her family’s asthma and allergy illnesses.
Tran explained that there are short- and “long-term benefits.”
• By leveraging rebates through SCE, GRID can install systems at no cost to qualifying homeowners. (GRID is currently in discussion with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to secure rebates for their customers.)
• Orihuela’s system installation took 24 hours by a GRID staff-led crew of 12 volunteer tribal solar trainees.
• The easily-maintained Yingli Solar electric systems come with manufacturer’s and GRID labor warranties of 10-25 years.
• These five tribal installations will generate about one million kWh of clean renewable energy, save more than $160,000 on utilities and prevent 505 tons of EPA-calculated greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent of planting 12,000 trees or 90 less cars on the road for one year.
• Part grid-tied systems are less expensive than the battery type and excess energy goes back into the grid. Homeowners are credited for their excess on their once-annual SCE bill. SCE Regional Manager of Local Public Affairs Deborah Hess said, “electrical rates will never go down unless there’s a miracle. This is that miracle.”
Of the temptation to increase electricity use due to lower bills, Tran said, “We do see some increase because (solar recipients) have been using electricity so modestly, and uncomfortably. Now they can enjoy a better quality of life.”
“Our goal is to reduce homeowner’s bills by 75 percent, depending on roof size and other factors, (so they can) “afford other necessities,” Tran said. “There is so much sunshine here and this technology allows us to capitalize on that. In the future, we hope to go to Google Map to see solar panels” on the roofs of all local homes.
The Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program is available to any eligible Owens Valley residents, Tran said. SASH information is available at http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/energy/Solar/sash.htm .