Greening the Hood: Is clean energy reaching poor communities?

11/25/2013, 3:40 p.m.
For Adama Mosley, a resident of the West Oakland neighborhood known as “Ghosttown,” having solar panels installed on her home ...
Grid Alternatives installed solar panels on Oakland resident Adama Mosley's house after she qualified for 100% financing.

OAKLAND, Calif. (NAM) -- For Adama Mosley, a resident of the West Oakland neighborhood known as “Ghosttown,” having solar panels installed on her home was “a dream come true.” Mosely had long been concerned about pollution from freeways and nearby brownfields (contaminated former industrial sites), contributing to the area’s high levels of asthma.

“I wanted to … do something to help clean up the neighborhood,” she said.

She also wanted to save money. A grandmother who is raising three adolescent grandchildren, Mosley’s electric bill consumed a disproportionate amount of her monthly income—as much as a quarter, she says. Paying the bill each month took a sizeable bite out of her fixed income. Mosley says she had a solar installer look at her property a while back, but was put off by the high costs.

For a typical household, a complete solar system runs between $15,000—$20,000, not including roof repairs, which can add another $10,000 to the cost. In Mosley’s neighborhood, the annual household median income is under $26,000, making solar all but impossible for most residents.

Solar seemed out of reach for Mosley until one day four years ago, when she was contacted by Jahahara Alkebulan-Ma’at, the Bay Area outreach coordinator for Grid Alternatives, a national nonprofit that does solar installations for low-income households.

Alkebulan-Ma’at says he often goes door-to-door in neighborhoods like Oakland’s Ghosttown, visiting residents to see if they qualify for Grid’s services. When he told Mosley she might be eligible for no-cost solar installation, she said she felt elated.

“I couldn’t believe that someone was actually doing something,” she recalled.

Unlike some of her neighbors, Mosley owned her own home, wasn’t facing foreclosure, and had a roof in good condition.

“Solar by itself won’t do it all,” Alkebulan-Ma’at explained. “We’re not gonna put solar on a bad roof,” he said, noting that roof repairs are often needed in low-income communities.

Mosley diligently filled out the extensive paperwork required to become a Grid client, and qualified for 100% financing, which the nonprofit cobbled together through a state rebate and a grant from a neighborhood group, the West Oakland Project Area Committee (WOPAC).

The power generated from her solar panels practically wiped out her monthly electricity bill – which dropped from about $350/month to $5/month. The cost savings help, but she adds, the big payoff for her was being able to reduce her carbon footprint and break “a circle of pollution.”

Mosley’s investment in solar panels reduces her electricity costs and comes from a source that doesn’t make the air in her neighborhood – which already has pollution problems – worse.