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In 2018, with seed funding from Wells Fargo, GRID Alternatives launched the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund and began investing in roof-ready, solar energy projects in tribal communities. (2:56)

GRID Alternatives: Powering change in communities

Why is free, clean electricity from the sun not available to everyone? GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit in Oakland, California, is working to make solar energy more accessible.

August 20, 2019

Viewpoints‘ invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Erica Mackie, co-founder and CEO of GRID Alternatives, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2001 and based in Oakland, California.


A woman smiles.
Erica Mackie is the co-founder and CEO of GRID Alternatives.

Having your electricity costs go down, providing for your family, and having a career you like with upward mobility can be life-changing. That’s the transformative power of renewable energy and the driver behind GRID Alternatives’ vision for a transition to clean, renewable energy that includes everyone. GRID developed a model to make solar technology practical and accessible for low-income communities, while providing pathways to clean energy jobs.

GRID’s work expanding access to renewable energy sits at the intersection of so many things: housing affordability, economic justice, job creation, and pollution. Under-resourced and low-income communities spend disproportionately more of their income toward energy bills and, at the same time, disproportionately bear the burden of environmental injustice and climate change. That is why every GRID project is designed to help families save money they can use for basic expenses, while also providing a classroom-on-the-roof — connecting people that need good jobs with a clean energy industry that needs good people — and reducing greenhouse gasses and local air pollution.

In 2004, with the help of a handful of volunteers, GRID installed its first, no-cost solar electric systems for two families in the San Francisco Bay Area. Fifteen years later, with the support of partners like Wells Fargo, GRID has grown into a national leader in making renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities. To date, GRID has served nearly 15,000 households across the United States, in tribal communities, and in Nicaragua, Nepal, and Mexico. In doing so, GRID has engaged more than 40,000 individuals in solar education and training to prepare them for jobs in the booming solar industry, and we have helped families save more than $367 million on their electricity bills.

Since 2010, GRID’s Tribal Program has worked to help tribal communities across the United States achieve their renewable energy and energy sovereignty goals, while training tribal members to enter the solar workforce.

In 2018, with seed funding from Wells Fargo, GRID launched the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund and began investing in roof-ready, solar energy projects in tribal communities. The need and excitement for renewable energy projects in tribal communities is great; TSAF received over 40 applications totaling more than $7 million in funding requests this year.

The Spokane Tribe’s Children of the Sun Solar Initiative was the first project selected for TSAF funding. This 650-kilowatt solar initiative, spearheaded by the Spokane Indian Housing Authority, was born in response to the 2016 Cayuse Mountain Fire that burned 18,000 acres on the Spokane reservation and cut power to the tribe’s main administrative buildings and water supply. For the Spokane Tribe, solar represents not just a way to save money and create new economic opportunity but a chance to strengthen community resilience and take steps toward self-sufficiency.

GRID’s partnership with Wells Fargo also extends to community volunteerism. In Van Nuys, California, Wells Fargo team members recently helped the Sirri family go solar. Earlier this year, GRID installed a no-cost solar system on the Sirri’s home, and they expect to save over $26,000 on their electricity bills over the lifetime of the system.

At the end of the day, GRID’s work is about people and communities. Through renewable energy technology and job training, families are keeping more money in their pocketbooks, job seekers are getting the experience they need to launch new careers, and communities are strengthening their resiliency and self-sufficiency.

An overhead shot shows a community of several buildings with a mountain range in the background.
Through GRID Alternatives‘ Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, more than 30 buildings on the Spokane Tribe reservation have been outfitted with roof-ready solar energy panels.
Contributors: Hector Batista
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