Courtney Dittmar was thrust into a tough Bay Area job market in 2009 when she lost her job of nine years at a university library. After two years of unemployment, a friend connected her with the nonprofit GRID Alternatives, which runs a Solar Intern Program funded by a $120,000 grant from Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Now, Dittmar is a graduate of the program and recently led a team of volunteers from PG&E and GRID Alternatives in completing a rooftop-solar installation on an Oakland home. The 1.6-kilowatt system, made possible through GRID Alternatives' Solar Affordable Housing Program, will save the homeowner an estimated $15,000 in energy costs over the system's 30-year expected lifetime.
Dittmar said her internship has opened a wealth of career opportunities at just the right time. "The internship has given me a whole new skill set, and as someone changing careers in mid-life, that's really handy," said Dittmar. "I definitely have more options now."
The Solar Intern Program is a three-month paid internship that provides job training for people seeking careers in the solar industry. PG&E's grant funds the program for four highly qualified trainees, who will receive job placement support from GRID Alternatives and PG&E after graduation. The other three internships will be in Fresno, Chico and Atascadero in 2013.
Before being selected as the first PG&E solar intern, Dittmar completed nearly 300 volunteer hours with GRID Alternatives, commuting by bus, train and bicycle from her home in Mountain View to solar installations throughout the Bay Area. Dittmar is also taking free classes at PG&E's Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco to supplement her field experience. She has applied for a few solar jobs recently and said she is convinced the training is making her more competitive.
Since 2006, PG&E has contributed more than $520,000 to GRID Alternatives' Solar Affordable Housing Program to support green job training, financial benefits for income-qualified families and a reduction in carbon for the broader community. In addition, GRID Alternatives has installed nearly all of the solar electric systems funded under the PG&E Solar Habitat program, a partnership between the utility and Habitat for Humanity.
"PG&E is proud to support the economic and community vitality that GRID Alternatives fosters," said Ezra Garrett, vice president of community relations and chief sustainability officer for PG&E. "Not only does GRID Alternatives provide career development in the critical solar energy sector, it also makes solar possible for members of our communities who otherwise wouldn't have access to this environmentally friendly, money-saving technology."
GRID Alternatives is a nonprofit organization that brings the benefits of solar technology to low-income communities. Using a barn-raising model, GRID Alternatives leads teams of volunteers and job trainees to install solar power on qualifying homes—providing savings for families struggling to make ends meet, preparing workers for jobs in the fast-growing solar industry, and cleaning our air. More than 2,800 California families have benefited from the program, saving an estimated $77 million in lifetime electricity costs. More than 11,000 people have received hands-on solar installation experience.