Greening The Hood: Is Clean Energy Reaching Poor Communities?


By: Eric K. Arnold

For Adama Mosley, a resident of the West Oakland neighborhood known as Ghost Town, 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.

solar_panelShe 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 and $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 Ghost Town, 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 going to 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 percent financing, which the nonprofit cobbled together through a state rebate and a grant from a neighborhood group, the West Oakland Project Area Committee (WOPAC).