Using Sunlight to Lower Bills for Low- to Moderate-Income Families

Homeowners in California, including Monica Sirri, will receive solar panels from GRID Alternatives, thanks to a grant from the Wells Fargo Builds℠ program.
Mar 20, 2019 2:30 PM ET

It’s important to Monica Sirri to cook for her family — including her three adult children and four grandchildren — when they visit every weekend.

“It’s the main thing to stay together,” Sirri said. “I have proof, because they love me and stay with me.”

But she feels bad that she has to ask her family to not turn on the air conditioning during extreme temperatures in their Van Nuys, California, home. “It’s hard for us to pay in the summer and winter, but we need air conditioning and lights,” she said. And it’s even harder since Sirri’s husband has a disability and Sirri has gone from working full time to part time so that she can take care of him.

Fortunately, Sirri and her family will now get some relief in the form of solar panels. Staff and volunteers from Wells Fargo and GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit that strives to make renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities, recently installed solar panels at Sirri’s house, thanks to a grant from the Wells Fargo Builds℠ program. The program, which is part of Wells Fargo Foundation, provides financial support to nonprofit housing organizations and involves Wells Fargo team members volunteering to help build, renovate, paint, or repair homes for low- to moderate-income households. This grant aims to fund solar installations with more than $200,000 at 14 homes in California, including Sirri’s, in 2019. Wells Fargo has donated more than $12 million to support GRID Alternatives’ work nationally since 2007.

“Wells Fargo Builds allows our team members to help our communities succeed through a grant and volunteer efforts,” said Jack Olree, Community Relations senior consultant in Los Angeles. “This year we had an opportunity to maximize our engagement with GRID Alternatives, and we wanted to make a significant impact for low- and moderate-income homeowners, helping them save crucial dollars every month on utilities with a free solar panel installation from GRID. This is just the first installation of many to come in California with GRID locations across the state.”

Sirri said the solar panels will definitely help with her electric bills, like a recent one for around $900. With the installation, her home now has 3 kilowatts of residential solar, including 12 solar panels, which will save an estimated $26,400 in electric bills over the lifetime of the system, according to GRID Alternatives. The nonprofit estimates that the environmental impact is equal to planting about 1,000 trees.

Sirri and her husband have lived in their home since the late 1980s. She wanted to get solar panels years ago, but when she got a cost estimate, Sirri figured she would never be able to afford them.

“The house is going to be for our kids,” Sirri said. “The house is old, but we try to keep it in good condition.”

Her son had previously installed a new shower, toilets, and light bulbs to help with energy efficiency and costs. After he heard about GRID, the family applied for the solar panel installation. When they were approved, Sirri was thrilled.

“I’m so excited,” Sirri said laughing. “I don’t have to yell out anymore, ‘Don’t turn on the air yet.’”