Two Reedley families will soon be saving on their energy bills, thanks to a program made possible by Reedley Rabobank and Grid Alternatives.
The non-profit solar contractor brings the benefits of solar technology into low-income households throughout the Central Valley. Reedley's Rabobank branch awarded the company with a $10,000 grant last week, to provide solar panel installations on two homes.
Rabobank manager Bill Williams said that he and his his staff will install the panels themselves, over the course of two days, under direction from the Grid Alternatives team. The families have not been selected yet, Williams said, but he expects them to be notified within the next month. Interested families must apply and qualify as low-income homeowners to be selected.
"The great thing about what we're doing, is that it's sustainable, renewable energy and we really are able to see the long-term effect," Williams said.
Rabobank first partnered on the solar affordable housing program in January 2012, donating $5,000 to outfit one home with 14 panels. Over the average system's life, it is expected to save over $30,000 in electricity costs, or $1,100 annually.
Williams said it's not only beneficial for the families and the environment, but for the community.
"If you're saving these people about $100 a month on their power bill, that money's going right back into the local economy," he said.
Grid Alternatives Regional Director Tom Esqueda said the program also serves to educate younger generations on clean, renewable energy. Though children may learn about environmental issues in school, he said, seeing green technology in action can have a more powerful impact.
"That's what makes our job so fun, getting to know the people in these communities and meeting the families we serve," Esqueda said. "Because they are the ones who will continue to benefit from this, long after we leave the site."
The other component to the program is "green" job training.
"A lot of the folks we deal with are either unemployed, underemployed or looking for a way to get involved in the renewable energy industry," Development Officer Jesse Arrequin said. "Part of the work that we're doing really revolves around training these people to work."
Along with volunteers from sponsoring agencies, Grid Alteratives utilizes job training partners to install solar electric systems – giving them valuable on-the-job experience.
Reedley resident Alfonso Padron, the son of Reedley Rabobank employee Maricela Padron, credits the program with leading him to his current career. He volunteered to help at last year's installation, and is now working for Verengo Solar in Fresno.
"I just thought it was interesting, and I knew I wanted to learn more about it," said Padron, a 2004 graduate of Parlier High School. After working odd jobs after high school, he said he never found the right fit until now.
Padron went on to take a six-week solar panel technician course, and is now certified in his field. He got the opportunity to perform installations for Grid Alternatives again during his training, and said that his favorite part was interacting with the families.
"They were always so excited to see the panels go up so quickly, in just two days," Padron said. "Plus, they're happy that they're going to be saving money."