Solarthon: Long Beach Bash Helps Neighborhood Go Green

Volunteers, donors, sponsors, recipients and trainees gathered in Long Beach under the direction of GRID Alternatives to provide solar power for nine families.

Photo courtesy of GRID Alternatives Employee volunteers from InSolar work side by side with students from Los Angeles Trade Technical College installing SunPower solar panels at Solarthon. 

“People, planet, employment – that’s really what Solarthon is all about,” says Alex McLeod, best known for originating TLC’s home design show Trading Spaces. Shes an L.A. board member of GRID Alternatives, the organization responsible for the annual all-day block party and solar installation event, this year held in Long Beach.

Volunteers, job trainees, sponsors and recipients of the energy-saving installations joined together to install nine solar electric systems for low-income families. While companies like Yingli Solar, SunPower, American Solar Power, INSolar!, and Johnson Controls provided supplies and volunteers, companies and job-training schools like Los Angeles Trade Technical College provided students who got invaluable professional experience. And, of course, the families who received the installations helped out as well.

Recipients like Nicole Craven were beaming when all was said and done. Craven lives with her daughter, Danielle, who she is trying to help through college. Craven has worked steadily but hasn’t received a raise in years, and she’s been finding it difficult to manage mounting living expenses. "We desperately need the savings,” she said, noting that she is very excited about the fact that she now has a solar electric system in place that will help reduce her energy bills.

“I want to take a step toward clean energy and eliminating the use of dirty energy and its production," said Armando Lomeli, another recipient. "We are from a humble family, and we are grateful to the sponsors. We are originally from Mexico and have owned our home for 17 years. Our financial situation is tough, but this program will help us tremendously."

Not only does this program aid individual families, but it improves the environment as well. To date GRID Alternatives of Greater Los Angeles has served more than 558 families who will save more than $12 million in lifetime electricity bills while preventing the release of more than 38,000 tons of CO2 – the equivalent of removing 8,000 cars from the 405 Freeway for a year.  In total, more than 3,400 families have been assisted by GRID Alternatives throughout California and Colorado, saving a total of $92 million in utility bills. The organization is about to expand into New York and New Jersey as well.

California Governor Jerry Brown is all for it. “GRID Alternatives helps low-income people be part of the solar revolution,” he said, speaking to a crowd at a GRID solar installation in Long Beach in May.

McLeod has been personally involved with the nonprofit organization’s overall mission – volunteering and raising funds to support energy efficiency – since 2007, when GRID’s L.A. office first opened and partnered with Habitat for Humanities and the Jimmy Carter Work Project. She says she knew next to nothing about solar energy until her fiance’s company signed on to sponsor a home, and she got hands-on experience installing a solar power system. Now she’s charged up and fully committed to the cause.

But she’s not just giving lip service and writing checks. She serves on the GRID Alternatives board, and she's not above climbing on roofs and helping with installations. Then there are the elaborate fundraisers she throws at her home, the famous Hacienda de la Paz, which uses geothermal energy, since so much of the residence is underground.

Photo by: Mark Singer Photography Believe it or not, this subterranean, USTA-regulation tennis court doubles as a ballroom and emergency shelter. Five stories high and capable of seating 350 guests, the room is decorated with floor-to-ceiling trompe l’oeil murals. 

“The best part of a project like this is at the end of the day, when you flip the switch and you actually see the electric meter go backwards,” she says. “I’m a results-oriented person, and you see changes for the better happen immediately. There’s nothing like it.”

To find out more about GRID Alternatives and see how you can help fight the energy crisis, go to

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