RE-volv, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, announced today a new program to empower citizens across the country to spearhead local solar energy projects. The initiative, called the Solar Champion program, trains volunteers to lead crowdfunding campaigns that will provide the upfront capital for community nonprofits to go solar.
“RE-volv’s Solar Champion program is a new way for people to bring clean energy to their communities,” said Andreas Karelas, RE-volv’s founder and Executive Director. “We’ve created a unique tool for citizens’ toolboxes to fight climate change. Now people have a path to go beyond personal action or policy support; you can actually drive clean energy solutions locally.”
The Solar Champion program’s website provides a “solar project in a box,” a first-of-its-kind free resource that offers step-by-step tutorials and videos to train volunteers on how to help local nonprofits go solar. The program aims to empower local groups and individuals to spearhead climate solutions that benefit their community.
RE-volv is currently recruiting Solar Champion teams for two projects in the East Bay: the Northern California Land Trust, a multifamily affordable housing complex in Berkeley, which will be installed by GRID Alternatives, and the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, a member of Interfaith Power and Light. Volunteers who are interested can find out more at RE-volv.org.
“GRID Alternatives is excited to be partnering with RE-volv,” said Zach Franklin, GRID Alternatives’ Chief Strategy Officer. “Its innovative finance model is going to help bring solar power to smaller nonprofits like the Northern California Land Trust that might not otherwise have had solar finance opportunities available to them.”
An estimated 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. face financial barriers to obtaining solar power as they do not qualify for solar tax credits or are too small to attract traditional investors. These nonprofits miss out on the financial benefits of solar, which they could use to further support the communities they serve. RE-volv’s model helps bridge this funding gap for organizations that provide valuable public services to vulnerable communities, including homeless shelters, schools, community centers, and houses of worship.
Before launching, RE-volv completed two successful pilot projects in Oakland using the Solar Champion model; Harbor House, which serves refugee, immigrant, and low-income families with after-school programs and ESL classes, and Faith Baptist Church, which gives out over 100 tons of food each year to people in need in East Oakland. The Faith Baptist Church campaign received the support of matching funds from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
“As a Solar Champion, I was directly involved in a project that benefits the community, and the environment, for decades to come,” said Sonja Marwood, who led the Faith Baptist Church project and now works with solar installer SunWork Renewable Energy Projects. “It is gratifying to know the energy and effort I put in will help so many people.”
The Solar Champion program is modeled off RE-volv’s Solar Ambassador program, a year-long fellowship that provides valuable career skills to college students by training them to bring solar to nonprofits in their communities. Students from over a dozen schools have participated in the program.
To date, RE-volv has crowdfunded 11 solar projects (150+ kW of capacity) in four states and signed 17 solar leases in six states. Thanks to the solar installations, these 11 nonprofits are expected to save between 15 and 50 percent on their electric bills, totaling more than $1.5 million of savings over the life of the energy systems. RE-volv’s solar revolving fund, the Solar Seed Fund, is now worth over $700,000 in future lease payments, which will be used to finance at least 20 more solar energy projects.