Low-income Baltimore neighborhood gets rooftop solar and job training

GRID Alternatives Baltimore solar project
© GRID Alternatives

Ten homes and a community center in East Baltimore are receiving solar arrays and cool roofs, with local residents getting solar job training as part of the project.

A partnership between the city of Baltimore, the nonprofit GRID Alternatives, and Civic Works, a local job training organization, is netting low-income homeowners and a community center their own clean energy source, and enabling more green job training in Charm City.

In East Baltimore's C.A.R.E (Caring Active Restoring Efforts) community, ten homes are getting 'cool roofs' and solar arrays, which are expected to help residents "climb the energy ladder" and take advantage of both the financial and environmental benefits of renewable energy. The program is funded through the city's Office of Sustainability and GRID Alternatives, and includes some 1600 hours of solar installation and weatherization job training for local residents, which could potentially garner them a green job in the booming solar industry.

The job training through Civic Works covers both weatherization and solar array installation, and is a three month program, beginning with a classroom portion for professional development and certifications, then two weeks of hands-on experience and two months of "operator-in-training" experience.

"I grew up and I saw violence around me, and being violent and in the streets was just never for me. For people my age, it’s most important to see the different job opportunities there are." - Terrell Smith, a Civic Works job trainee and local resident

In addition to the rooftop solar installations, the homes also received 'cool roofs' that are expected to help reduce energy costs by about 30%, and when combined with weatherization retrofits, could help these low-income residents save quite a bit on their utility bills. The cool roofs are essentially an elastomeric base coat, combined with a reinforcing tensile fabric, and then sealed off with a white reflective coat, which keeps the summer sun from unnecessarily heating up the homes and boosting electrical demand for cooling purposes.

One of the recipients of a rooftop solar array is Leonard Wills, a 74-year-old veteran who was recently recognized as one of the city's "Top Neighborhood Dads" (which honors Baltimore men who "play an active role in making their communities better, safer, and stronger"). Wills said he plans to use the energy savings from the solar PV system for "something I’ve really been wanting to do, some repairs on my house," which is a practical example of why these kinds of renewable energy investments can be a really great way to begin to eliminate energy poverty and free up money for other expenses.

This project is the first of its kind for GRID in the city of Baltimore, but with the groundwork being laid in this C.A.R.E. neighborhood, is expected to be just the beginning of a scalable citywide clean energy revolution in Charm City. Funding and sponsorship for the initiative came from the Abell Foundation, the Baltimore Office of Sustainability and the Baltimore Energy Challenge, Civic Works, and Constellation (an Exelon subsidiary).

GRID Alternatives, which is the largest nonprofit solar installer in the U.S., has been responsible for installing more than 5,400 solar rooftops (totaling more than 18.5MW in solar capacity), and providing solar job training for more than 21,000 people. Funding for these efforts comes from private donors, cap-and-trade revenue (in California), and the solar industry.

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