New solar array to benefit low income AEC customers

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Diane Sieker photo

Grid Alternatives Inland Empire, a leader in making clean renewable energy and job training to low income communities, recently broke ground for a 1-megawatt solar electric system on the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians reservation near Anza.

GRID IE was awarded a $2.05 million grant under the California Department of Community Services and Development Low-income Weatherization Program, Community Solar Pilot Program for the project. The project will not only benefit the tribal community but will also provide $5.4 million in savings to benefit low-income members of Anza Electric Cooperative, according to GRID Alternative officials.

AEC will offer bill credits to qualified low-income residents, enabling low income co-op members to significantly reduce their energy bills. They will also maintain full ownership and responsibility of the solar array and its output on the reservation. AEC is slated to do some electrical upgrades including installation of new power poles and transformers to support the influx of energy.

According to the agreement with AEC, approximately 38 qualified low-income Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indian tribal members and an additional 150-250 low-income AEC members within the boundaries of the cooperative will receive a credit offsetting their electric bills.

“We are excited to break ground on California’s first low-income community solar project. The partnership between the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians, Anza Electric Cooperative and GRID Alternatives will provide clean energy, job training and bill savings to tribal members and the surrounding community who are not currently able to benefit from existing low-income solar programs. This is what makes this pilot community solar program so special, and we hope our success will provide a model for more community solar across California,” Jaime Alonso, executive director of GRID IE, said

The first phase of the project included site grading and clearing, erosion control, surveying, location staking, receiving of piles and some racking materials and pile driving. The second week of the phase will include continuation of pile driving, trenching, AC/DC sub work, receiving more equipment and materials and a site walk through to assess the progress.

According to Vanessa Lorrah, commercial project manager at the site, the project is expected to be complete in fall of 2020. GRID IE serves Riverside, San Bernardino and Inyo counties, providing disadvantaged communities throughout the Inland Empire with long-term relief from unpredictable utility costs, while training more individuals for positions in the solar industry.

GRID’s tribal program helps tribal communities become self-sustaining by providing resources to assist with their clean energy goals. Renewable energy can drive economic growth and environmental benefits in communities including tribal reservations that are most impacted by underemployment, pollution and climate change.

GRID Alternatives has regional offices and affiliates serving California, Colorado, the mid-Atlantic region and tribal communities nationwide, and GRID’s International program serves Nicaragua, Nepal and Mexico. Since its inception, GRID IE has installed solar for over 2,000 families and helped households and housing providers save $60 million in lifetime electricity costs, while training over 2,800 people. For more information, visit http://gridalternatives.org/ie or call 951-272-4743.

The Santa Rosa Indian Reservation occupies 11,630 acres of land. Currently, there are 141 recognized tribal members 18 and over. Approximately 144 individuals live on the reservation.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.