California Habitat for Humanity homes get solar

East Bay Habitat for Humanity volunteers install solarThe East Bay Silicon Valley Habit for Humanity is about to build its 101th energy efficient home powered with solar.

The organization celebrated the start of a new 12-home development in Oakland, Calif. this week.

The project is made possible through a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Pacific Gas and Electric, the largest electric provider in northern and central California. Total, the program will have installed solar on 416 Habitat homes.

Habitat for Humanity builds affordable homes with volunteer labor and often on donated or discounted land so that low-income buyers can afford to own their own homes.

“Back in 2000 we started looking at our homes and how we could make them greener,” said Krysta Morgenthaler. “We even started going through the certification process and we’ve gotten to the point that a lot of our homes are LEED Platinum.”

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a certification from the Green Building Council that measures how efficient a building is above what typical building code requires. Platinum is the highest level of certification.

Making Habitat homes more energy efficient just made sense, Morgenthaler said. It saves the families who live in them money in the long run.

After years of building green homes, the organization was still looking for ways to make the houses even smarter investments for the families who would own them. “Solar was the logical next step,” Morgenthaler said.

In 2004 and 2005, Habitat started reaching out to PG&E and they formed a partnership that launched in 2007.

Since then, the company has donated more than $6.4 million for solar installations on Habitat homes. This year, the company committed another $1.27 million, which will fund 64 installations, according to a release about the partnership.

“It’s more environmentally sustainable,” Morgenthaler said. “But it also lowers the cost of living for our families. It’s good for environmental health and for the financial health of the homeowners.”

She said many of the Habitat homeowners have said their electric bills are frequently less than $5 a month with the solar installations. “You can literally, watch the meter spin backward sometimes,” she said.

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