Pamela Harris, Wade Watkins and Barbara Bivens are among 31 homeowners who received solar upgrades as part of the Morgan Community Mile initiative.

Bigwigs and everyday Baltimoreans gathered this week at Wade Watkins’ Belair-Edison home for a street party to celebrate the 31st and final solar installation of the Morgan Community Mile. Among the leaders in attendance was Congressman John Sarbanes, who called the program a “win-win-win: A win for homeowners who will see their BGE bills drop substantially; a win for our planet because the solar electricity generated is pollution-free; and a big win for good, paying jobs in the clean-energy industry.”

The shindig offered a big shoutout for a public-private partnership model that has proved to be a resounding success. About this time last year, we reported that Genevieve Fenwick, a senior on a fixed income, had GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic install 12 solar panels on her row home — for free. Both Fenwick and Watkins were beneficiaries of Morgan State’s flagship initiative designed to better Northeast Baltimore communities.

‘My BGE bill was $120 lower this month’

Solar panels installed on an energy-efficient home can yield real savings. Watkins will save at least $600 on his BGE bill because he has weatherized his home, and generates solar energy on his rooftop.

Each participant in the Morgan Community Mile solar project first had to partake in the Baltimore Energy Challenge’s free energy-efficiency weatherization program, which teaches low- and no-cost ways for Baltimore City homeowners and businesses to cut their energy usage. A Baltimore Energy Challenge expert conducts an onsite analysis and provides a free kit customized to each homeowner’s needs.

This “let’s-save-some-serious-kilowatt-kit” might include power strips (including specialty models), efficient lightbulbs, wraps for hot water heaters and pipes, programmable thermostats and low-flow faucet aerators and draft stoppers, among other additions.

A joint partnership between Civic Works, Baltimore Community Foundation and the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability, the challenge asks participants to pledge to cut their energy usage by 15 percent with the modifications.

“After the Baltimore Energy Challenge energy-efficiency changes and the energy that my panels make from the sun each day, my BGE bill is only $40 each month,” said Barbara Bivens, the first Morgan Community Mile solar project homeowner. “I’m so thrilled and want others to receive this blessing that I invite our neighbors to our Silver Angels community meetings and educate them on how my neighbors can take part in these programs.”

Mayor Pugh and Barbara Bivens met at the event. Bivens’ home was the first to receive solar panels under the Morgan Community Mile initiative.

Job development and green jobs

GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, a workforce development nonprofit that installs solar for limited-income communities, partnered with Civic Works and Baltimore Energy Challenge to identify income-qualified homes for the Morgan Community Mile. Baltimore City and third-party financiers, secured by GRID Alternatives, provided funding.

GRID Alternatives installed the solar units on all 31 homes over 18 months. The solar systems have a combined capacity of 104 kilowatts, and will result in a total lifetime savings of more than $500,000 for the homeowners.

An added perk: GRID Alternatives’ solar installers gained on-site training and experience as they worked to earn their solar certifications, which are needed to enter the growing solar industry.

Solar jobs are high-quality manufacturing jobs, just the type Baltimore desperately needs. Eighty-five percent of Maryland’s solar installation firms report difficulty in finding qualified and certified solar installers.

The pay isn’t terrible, either. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, installers average $22 per hour, or about $40,000 per year.

Laurel Peltier writes the environment GreenLaurel column every Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.